Atlanta folk-rock fusionists Little Tybee return for their third full-length record, featuring a collection of sun-soaked new jams and noticeably enhanced production values. For Distant Viewing doesn’t do much to evolve the band’s upbeat, “jazz lite” timbre, but it does refine the aesthetics and overall sound quality presented in their past offerings.
Little Tybee’s musical styling is a slurry of jazz, alt-country, and Latin influences, culminating in oversaturated, dreamy indie pop. The majority of the For Distant Viewing’s tracks rely on this familiar combination of jangly acoustic guitar, jazz-standard muted bass, subdued keys and understated drumming, buoyed by manic auxiliary percussion and the ubiquitous string accompaniment of violinist Nirvana Kelly. Lap/pedal steel guitar adds some variety and a solid country twang to a small selection of songs. Unfortunately, singer Brock Scott’s somewhat androgynous tenor imbues many of the tracks with a sort of uninspired, elevator-jazz lethargy. His characteristic upward inflection is an acquired taste not everyone — including me — will appreciate.
The tone of For Distant Viewing is uniformly positive and consistently upbeat. Its songs capture a prevailing mood of luminous whimsy, generating a kind of wistful atmosphere native to indie-flick romances. It’s practically impossible to experience the album without it subconsciously soundtracking visions of lazy summer outings and shimmering, Parisian cafés. However, For Distant Viewing rarely strays from this tonal path, resulting in an album that feels largely single-minded and predictable. Despite its pleasantly relaxed aesthetic, the lack of variety is strangely exhausting.
While Little Tybee’s overall sound combines elements of various genres, it’s obvious the group takes a lot of cues from cotemporary jazz. The tracks are performed with clipped precision, peppered with intuitive solo sections, tempo shifts, and mixed meter theatrics. However, the nuances of the band’s sound only impress for so long; and the handful of songs that feature more pointed genre influences — mariachi, flamenco, etc. — outshine the rest.
Of the album’s 11 tracks, three stand out as solid examples of the band’s capabilities. The titular “For Distant Viewing” opens the album with wispy acoustic guitar and sensual violin swells, before breaking into an energetic up-tempo canter. The song segues almost immediately into a relaxed, Latin-flavored backbeat, dovetailing into a brief, dreamy coda. “Hearing Blue” incorporates the band’s flamenco influences to huge success, merging bombastic clapping and rhythmic hand percussion with frenetic electric guitar flourishes and lilting strings. Although the track eventually evens out, hooky choruses and a late drum break keep the energy flowing. The album’s sole instrumental track, “Fantastic Planet,” starts off with quirky, ‘70s-era Wah pedal yawns, but backing vocals eventually open it up into a spacious, surreal-sounding jam that conjures visions of deep-sea/-space drifting.
In spite of the obvious care exhibited by Little Tybee’s talented lineup, the majority of For Distant Viewing comes off feeling like so much background sound (Although it is perfectly noncommittal summer fare). While the band fits neatly under a broad “indie” heading, its music is more akin — stylistically and viscerally — to world-influenced easy listening or adult contemporary. That’s not especially encouraging, unless you’re a fan of those genres. With a few exceptions, the music (despite its complexity) is often too relaxed and monotonously even-tempered to inspire much excitement. It’s not a bad album, but its lack of dynamics or tonal variety leaves it feeling sadly underwhelming. Little Tybee are clearly capable of more. Maybe next time.
Sound Quality: Little Tybee abandoned their characteristic DIY recording methods for the production of For Distant Viewing. The band’s past two albums sound absolutely fine, but the added layer of polish on their latest effort makes their deft instrumentation shine. The vinyl transfer sounds incredibly crisp, perfectly capturing the band’s many instruments and cross-genre style. Nirvana Kelly’s string accompaniments are particularly well-represented.
Packaging: For Distant Viewing is presented as a single 12″ LP, pressed on standard-weight black vinyl. The disc is housed within a simple, white, paper slip inside of a two-panel, glossy sleeve. The album’s cover art is comprised of a simple, understated photograph unmarred by typography. I’m a huge proponent of omitting the band and album title from cover artwork whenever possible; and that design preference works well for this record. A lyrics insert would have been great; but alas, there is none.
Extras: The album arrives with a download card and a sticker pack consisting of two full-color, 4″x4″ vinyl stickers. The stickers were originally offered as a pre-order bonus, but it seems as though Paper Garden Records might be including them with standard purchases. No colored variants of the album are currently available.
Summary: In spite of some truly gifted musicianship and spot-on production values, Little Tybee struggles to inspire much excitement with their latest album, For Distant Viewing. Given the proper context (summer lounging, rom-com soundtracking, etc.) a fair portion of the album can be enjoyable. Little Tybee’s consistently even tone and adult-contempo brand of jazz fusion won’t appeal to everyone, but those who get it are sure to appreciate the band’s appeal. A decidedly average vinyl package doesn’t do the album any favors either.
Make Sure To Spin: “For Distant Viewing,” “Hearing Blue” & “Fantastic Planet”
“For Distant Viewing” is available for purchase at Paper Garden Records’ website