Last year featured the first single from the Brooklyn duo Minks. “Funeral Song” was a delirious rush of melancholy pop that played out like a shoegaze-informed rewrite of Buffalo Tom’s “Summer Song” — rooted in an ambiguous relationship with nostalgia, musically twisting and turning yet never losing an essential focus. A strange combination? Perhaps, but one that clicked — and, more importantly, one that established this group’s template, drawing equal influence from the aforementioned shoegaze scene and mid-1990s indie and alt-rock.
Minks’ debut album, By the Hedge, includes “Funeral Song” and builds on its sound: a fully atmospheric, unabashedly sentimental strain of pop that, at its best, provides a welcome immersion. Unsurprisingly, “Funeral Song” is one of the highlights here, a howling countermelody making the song’s melancholy more tangible, even physical. “Juniper” puts Amalie Bruun’s vocals in the forefront, providing a welcome, soaring counterpoint to frontman Shaun Kilfoyle’s more egalitarian approach. And “Our Ritual” establishes a bold, captivating mood from the outset, with chiming keyboard clouds drifting from speakers in a New Romantic haze. The interplay between Kilfoyle’s voice and Bruun’s is at its most deft here, and the song may well represent By the Hedge’s high point.
Elsewhere, the tension between the band member’s delirious tendencies and their more grounded ones leads to some awkwardness. While Kilfoyle’s vocals are largely solid, they tend to work best in tandem with Bruun’s; on his own, his vocals can sound a bit jarring against the more textured backdrops. Alternately, the effect is not unlike a surreal fusion of Beat Happening-esque vocals and Slowdive-ish music — elements that work well on their own, but tend to clash when combined. “Out of Tune,” the album’s second song, represents the point where the vocals seem most out of step with the music; it’s something that threatens to derail the album early on.
Luckily, the songwriting on Minks’ debut hits far more frequently than it misses. It’s a solid establishment of a noteworthy sound — the proverbial “encouraging first album.” It’s also a style that offers opportunities for stumbling: its amalgamation of two well-known genres could dry up quickly without some sort of reinvigoration before album No. 2.