Watchhouse: Watchhouse (Tiptoe Tiger) - review | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, December 7th, 2021  

Watchhouse

Watchhouse

Tiptoe Tiger

Aug 16, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz have been recording as Mandolin Orange for the past decade. In the months leading up to their latest album release, they also unveiled the news that they would be changing their name to Watchhouse. A reference to a reflective spot that Marlin frequented as a teen, the change was met by fans with reactions running the gamut from enthusiastic to, putting it most succinctly, “big bummer.” Doubling down by releasing their latest album as a self-titled one, its arrival is clearly nothing to be bummed about. And if you want to get technical about it (or give yourself the grace to give it a chance), Watchhouse was recorded prior to the name change announcement.

Most importantly there is a change in musical approach afoot here, but subtler than lead single “Better Way” may have signaled. “Better Way” has a light flourish of psychedelia, but of more note is a newfound complexity with lusher arrangements and expanded instrumentation. Mandolins are still present across the album, but not used in the traditional bluegrass “chk, chk, chk” rhythmic manner, nor for fills. If “Better Way” is too much to ease into, the shorter path to getting into the Watchhouse groove lies on “Upside Down.” Frantz handles the vocal lead here and takes the listener up several terraced steps, each with a more dazzling display unveiled. Half way in a heavier guitar lead punches things up and in the final quarter, as Frantz’s vocal soars on the line, “Look at Miss blue eyes runnin’ round,” the song blossoms into a newfound and fully infectious melody. If Marlin and Frantz find themselves unfettered to the past, “Better Way” and “Upside Down” provide the proof.

Elsewhere shifts are harder to detect. As Watchhouse was prone to do in their earlier incarnation, “Beautiful Flowers” hearkens back to earlier times. In this case to the invention of the automobile, but here the story flashes to the longer term impacts of such discoveries. The duo also re-record 2019’s “Belly of the Beast,” which was a fine country tinged ambler before, but the remake evidences a noticeable shift in the duo’s interest level and energy. The album was co-produced with the omnipresent Josh Kaufman, whose contribution was more likely in supporting a desire to do something different than to have had an influence on the record’s sound.

Not unlike Marlin and Frantz’s previous output, Watchhouse taken in its entirety makes for a gentle and soothing listen, with a little more going on under the hood. Many of the songs are inspired by their roles as parents of a young child, which brings a level of lightness and hope to the proceedings as well. No doubt the duo’s musical evolution will continue now that the proverbial cat’s out of the bag. Given everything we have had to grapple with the past few years, coming to terms with Marlin and Frantz’s new iteration should hardly be a challenge for any of us. But for all this high minded acceptance, here’s to hoping they keep playing that whiskey song, even if it’s with synths and a drum machine. (www.watchhouseband.com)

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10



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