Take equal parts modern R&B, cocktail lounge easy listening, and a little bit of alternative psychedelia, and you might have an idea of what to expect on Fovea’s debut LP, Pencil Me In. Having poked around online prior to listening, I was still unprepared for what I heard on first spin.
And, to be quite honest, I’m still not quite sure as to what I’ve got, even after multiple spins. Fovea’s music is, at heart, quietly smooth with hints of purposeful dissonance. Take, for instance, the opening track, “Boss Boy,” which features not only a backing track recalling the woozy synths of late ‘90s ambient electronica, but Autotuned vocals which are processed far beyond what even Kanye West might consider. It’s mellow in theory, but the vocals seem deliberately positioned to create a sense of unease.
Listening, you can tell the band’s musicians can sing. Keyboardist and violinist Halley Furlong-Mitchell sings in the vein of lounge revivalists like Frenchy and Combustible Edison’s Liz Cook, but she’s not averse to warbling it like a Mrs. Miller when the occasion calls for it, either.
Still, for all the weird voiceover word-jazz of “Sent” or “Received,” or the avante-pop of “Don’t Play” and “GTFO,” or even a flirtation with Leonard Cohen darkness on “Worn Out,” in the middle of Pencil Me In, Fovea delivers one perfect noir-pop song in the form of “Always.” It’s as if they wanted to pause halfway through the record and disconcert you even more by delivering the one thing you couldn’t possibly expect: the expected.
While Fovea’s Pencil Me In might be more challenging a record than the usual listen, it’s definitely one to which you’ll return to and play repeatedly. Trying to discover the secrets of the various sonic nooks and crannies in which it plays is a remarkably fulfilling experience, and one that bears repeating.
Given the wide range of styles and sounds on Pencil Me In, it’s hard to get a clear reading on the sonic quality of the record, but Fovea’s debut has enough low end when it needs it. The highs are a little thin, especially on the vocals, but the guitars are crisp enough to balance it out. The drums are produced in a light jazz manner, leaving them muted, though. Overall, it’s kind of a bland sound for songs which have this much going on.
The packaging for Pencil Me In is really quite deluxe for a debut album. It’s pressed on 180-gram black vinyl, and comes in an embossed tip-on jacket. Inside, there’s a sticker with the album art, as well as a color insert with production information and thank-yous. It’s pretty impressive, although when you look closely at the cover art, it’s just ever-so-blurry around the edges. It’s pretty much imperceptible unless you’re really getting up on it, though, and the embossing certainly more than makes up for it.
Pencil Me In is available on vinyl from Omad Records.