A long time ago, I heard a friend describe the music of Austin, Texas-based duo Hovvdy as “making you nostalgic for a moment you haven’t had yet.” That’s a fair description of the band’s dreamy, slow-core-indebted sound that’s carried across three albums (2016’s Taster, 2018’s Cranberry, and 2019’s Heavy Lifter) and brought them comparisons to similarly introspectively-leaning lo-fi songwriters like Florist and Alex G. However, their fourth album True Love, out today on Grand Jury records, elevates Hovvdy into unprecedented territory with its bald-faced embrace of love and a fleshed-out, more full sound than we’re used to from the duo of Will Taylor and Charlie Martin.
From the opening strums of “True Love”, the exuberant lead single of the album, it’s instantly clear that the previous haze that enveloped the band has somewhat subsided into the background. With airy synths surrounding the duetting band members, the song progresses with a shuffling drum beat leading to near-shouts of the refrain “Do you believe what I said / That I am the man I say I am?”, ending on a cathartic note that propels the rest of the album forward. Both members got married in between Heavy Lifter and this record, and it’s no surprise that most of the record focuses on the idea of love in both a romantic and familial sense. “Lake June”, a Will Taylor-penned highlight, stunningly describes the feeling of that realization of love, beginning with “All in, moving backward / At the wake of your first word” before dipping into a soft, vocoder-heavy pre-chorus where he simply exclaims “I love you so / I love you so much”. Later in the album on singles “Around Again” and “Junior Day League”, Taylor sings of more centralized memories of growing up in rural Texas, all centered within songs that slowly unfurl to reveal themselves as their runtime goes along. “Joy”, led by Martin, takes on a pop-forward approach previously teased by stand-alone singles “Runner” and “I’m Sorry” and highlights the difficulty of letting go of love in the past — “In another world I’m with you / You said it just happened to be this way / Let it unwind / I’ve got time to spend / Fall into place in the end”. Even in the record’s saddest, most reflective moments, there’s still an underlining of hopefulness for a better tomorrow and an acceptance that things will eventually be okay.
Sonically, the band has finally unlocked their full potential on True Love by teaming up with indie super-producer Andrew Sarlo (Big Thief, Bon Iver) to really create new avenues of sound that were previously unheard on their discography. Twinkling piano and a slight fuzz around all of the vocals bring to mind House of Sugar, the 2019 breakthrough of Alex G that fully realized his technicolor vision of music that was previously held back by lo-fi sonics. The remnants of old Hovvdy are still present: “Hope” is a synth-laden, pitch-shifted interlude that wouldn’t sound out of place on Heavy Lifter and “One Bottle” is a nearly acoustic Taylor number that is sure to make you cry in your car as you drive late at night. The biggest difference is how these songs, as previously mentioned, unveil themselves the longer that you listen to them; with each headphone listen, you can pick out a new aspect of Hovvdy’s sound that you might have missed the first time. It feels like a joyous puzzle to unpack that exhibits remarkable depth and songwriting ability for tracks that, when taken at face value, are pretty straightforward. The best example of this is “Blindsided”, which out of a pretty great discography might be the best track Hovvdy has ever created. Starting as a swinging guitar melody with vocal accompaniment from Martin, the song gently evolves into an orchestral-tinged masterpiece that brings to mind equal parts A Moon Shaped Pool-era Radiohead and the steel-guitar heavy moments of Pinegrove or Strange Ranger. It’s a stunning piece of music and arguably the exclamation point on the album despite sitting in the middle of the record.
With True Love, Hovvdy has simultaneously leveled up while also keeping the best and most personal parts of their sound. This is undoubtedly a Hovvdy record — despite all the comparisons I’ve made above, no one really sounds like them. It goes deeper, though; fans of the band will have another great album to obsess over, but new listeners should be able to instantly fall in love as they search for the moment that hasn’t happened yet with True Love as the soundtrack. Instead of looking in the past, Taylor and Martin are sitting in a hopeful present, with a wide-screen outlook underscoring True Love to create one of the most enjoyable albums of 2021.
Hovvdy is currently on tour with Dayglow and just announced a massive tour for 2022 — check all dates here.