Given the amount of recycling that happens in music, it’s a wonder there aren’t more contemporary acts lifting the crisp, clean and wholly satisfying sound of the Everly Brothers. Granted, Iowa’s favorite close-harmony singers helped shape pop music forever through their influence on the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel.
Enter Cut Worms, a musical project helmed by New York-based (but Midwestern-raised) Max Clarke that’s unabashedly indebted to the Everlys. The band’s debut album Hollow Ground doesn’t invent any new sounds or styles—quite the opposite, actually—but as an efficient collection of lovely, well-crafted retro-pop, it’s spot on.
Hollow Ground is the kind of project that could get watered down with too many cooks in the kitchen, so Clarke kept it tight: The album was produced by Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado in Los Angeles and Jason Finkel at Gary’s Electric in New York, and Clarke played most of the sounds himself, including guitars, bass, lap steel and keyboards. No surprise, then, that Hollow Ground boasts an impressive sonic consistency across all 10 tracks.
Throughout, Clarke explores the intersection of early pop-rock and traditional country, with melody as top priority every step of the way. On the upbeat “How It Can Be,” Clarke’s vocal slides across the top of frolicsome piano and laser-guided electric guitar. “Coward’s Confidence” incorporates horns inside a deep canyon of echo and comes out sounding like a landlocked Beach Boys. And the lush vocal harmonies in the chorus of “Don’t Want to Have to Say Good-Bye” only enhance one of the album’s very best moments.
Elsewhere, “It Won’t Be Too Long” is a little bit twangy, and “Think I Might Be in Love” is a little bit more twangy and “Hanging Your Picture Up to Dry” is the most twangy. “Cash For Gold” is a sublime slice of ‘60s garage-rock with a bit of surf style and a short, perfect chorus. “Mad About You” swirls off into a strange, psychedelic coda. And in “Like Going Down Sideways,” Clarke proves that he can flesh out a song’s natural beauty when he takes his foot off the gas for a few minutes.
In a lot of ways, Cut Worms’ Hollow Ground recalls the debut album from rising country singer Joshua Hedley, Mr. Jukebox (which we reviewed on Paste last month). Both are singularly, narrowly focused on the sound of a bygone era, and both are painstaking in their efforts to recreate that sound. The difference, at least for now, is that Hedley’s gospel-tinged country feels fully lived-in, whereas Clarke sounds like he might be trying something on for Hollow Ground. But, boy, does it fit him well.