This is the album El Hollín has waited to make. Whereas last year’s Pleasure Puncher was peppered with less-than-successful, and often seemingly random, interludes between almost every track, Holey Smokes is a tight collection of 15 songs. The group’s signature pop-folk (think 1990s Elephant 6 with bits of acoustic C86) is well showcased via thoughtful arrangements, Wyatt Strother’s thoughtful production and, quite honestly, the bringing of Lydia Brambila-Escamilla’s violin into a fully realized, and now essential, component. Her parts are never flashy, but rather serve the twin goals of underlining the emotional context of the songs and propelling them along in ways that guitar simply can’t. At times, it’s positively orchestral.
I hesitate to say the lyrics on Holey Smokes are immaterial. But neither are they foundational to what make the band so intriguing and this album so pleasing. The group has gotten so much better at painting its aural portraits inside a tighter frame, as opposed to a wall-splashing mural. Dena Zilber’s mid-range vocals always hint at melancholy. The music draws the ears in and sets the listener in that place of reflection that is often only comfortable because of its familiarity. Once there, a body can start to hear the lyrics closer; the effect is that of a blanket being pulled up to one’s chin. Not because you’re tired, but because that’s how it fits best. 4 out of 5.
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