Hovvdy’s Self-Titled Album Gracefully Untangles Family Ties

The Texas-bred duo’s new double-LP showcases a new spin on their signature light-footed production as well as a heavier subject matter.

Music Reviews Hovvdy
Hovvdy’s Self-Titled Album Gracefully Untangles Family Ties

The sound that Hovvdy have become known for—lo-fi indie—is rarely associated with songs about mature themes like fatherhood and family trees, or even steady long-term relationships. Bedroom vocals are more synonymous with young adult chaos: unreciprocated love, the scary new reality of post-adolescence and desperately seeking identity. But the songs on Charlie Martin and Will Taylor’s sprawling new self-titled double-album turn to some heavier fare and pack as much of a punch as anything they’ve ever released, all while never sacrificing the earmarks of the experimental Hovvdy sound.

In fact, while teaming up again with producer Andrew Sarlo—also known for his work with Bon Iver and Big Thief—Hovvdy, once stalwarts of the Austin scene, take bigger sonic swings than ever before, and most of these swings connect. Throughout the album’s 19 songs, there’s plenty of the soft-spoken lo-fi they’re known for (“Big Blue,” “Heartstring”), but there’s also skippy, fuzzed-out country (“Bubba,” “Portrait”), loopy psych-pop (“Meant”) and catchy freak-folk that would’ve been right at home on an Animal Collective setlist in the late-aughts (“Bad News”).

Taking this variety into account, it’s easy to see why Hovvdy is your favorite artist’s favorite artist. Zach Bryan cited the pair as inspiration for wanting to someday make “a midwest punk album.” boygenius said Hovvdy’s 2021 album True Love influenced their much-lauded 2023 the record. Martin and Taylor take chances in their songwriting and recording processes, which gets them the well-deserved attention of their peers, but nothing about the end result is haughty or frosty. Hovvdy is the perfect showing of their absorbing but approachable product.

Taylor said they wanted the new album “to encapsulate what it felt like to be in the room when we’re playing.” That intimacy certainly comes through, but it sounds less like we’re all in a room together and more like lounging by a campfire in a starlit backyard. On the twinkly “Every Exchange,” Taylor, who is father to a three-year-old, witnesses how “time moves differently” as a parent, watching “baby brown eyes looking off into the trees / Reflecting the light you bring.” And on the delightfully repetitive “Bubba,” which sounds a bit like a much twangier b-side from Bon Iver’s 22, a million, it’s instead the protective older brother who’s charged with looking after a little one, promising his sister he’ll “get a goddamn grip.”

It takes a ton of courage to write vulnerably about one’s family. The Texas indie-pop pair take this leap not just on one song but many times throughout Hovvdy. Martin fearlessly wrote “Song For Pete,” which appears on the stacked back-half of the record, for his grandfather—“Papa Pete, the proud father”—on the day he passed away. And on that day, it seems his mind was on not only the friendship and mentorship he found in his grandpa, but also a decades-long marriage for the ages: “An endless love / My grandmother / For 60 years.”

Hovvdy is again in awe of an older generation on “Make Ya Proud,” another song Martin wrote in honor of his grandfather. Much like Lucy Dacus’ “Pillar Of Truth,” it’s about watching a wise loved one fade and wishing there was more time to pick their brain—and thus being forced to consider what life might look like without them and how to best sustain their legacy: “How can I make you proud / Sing you a song, I will.” On “Bad News,” which takes some sonic cues from Hovvdy’s contemporary (and former tourmate) Alex G, the band again chases that ever-dwindling resource of time: “My time is all I have…Our time is all I want.”

They’ve always dabbled in country, but on Hovvdy, a sparkling finish of twang and slide guitar has the duo sounding more boldly Southern than before. The scenarios are distinctly Southern, too. On “Big Blue,” there’s a listening party with “Uncle Tim” and his bootleg The Band albums. And on hooky single “Jean,” when things don’t go exactly to plan, there’s a trip five blocks over because “you got a cousin, says he can help me out.” If you have a big family in the South, you might be familiar with both the joys and havoc that a carousel of resourceful cousins can bring.

Among this collection of good tales about family, thirty-something friendships and kitchen table conversations, singles “Forever” and “Meant” are worth plain obsessing over. The former pledges devotion to a partner through and around life’s stresses over the sound of playful record scratches, and the latter easily melds all the album’s ideas together in a single entrancing song. There’s a lot of therapy-speak floating around nowadays that has convinced us that adult relationships are meant to be strenuous. But it’s not that complicated. As “Meant” describes so beautifully, family is about showing up: “I needed you to stay right here and you did.”

The album ultimately finds what those in search of family are really hunting: “a soft place to fall,” as it’s described in “Clean.” Is there a more worthy quest? Relationships come with responsibility and often heartbreak, but for those of us who are lucky enough to have found family or been born into it, the blessings far outweigh the burdens. Martin and Taylor thoughtfully trace their own familial inroads on Hovvdy, and it never sounds less than courageous, not to mention so damn listenable.

Ellen Johnson is a former Paste music editor and forever pop culture enthusiast. Presently, she’s a full-time editor and part-time writer. You can find her in Atlanta, or rewatching Little Women on Letterboxd.

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