December 13, 2012

CD Review: From a cabin in the woods emerges 'Grrr Boo Hiss'

All of the key elements that make up the if and it signature sound are still in place.

By RICK JOHNSON

It's been a busy couple of years for the Portland band if and it. In late 2011, it released an EP called "ratpig." This year saw the release of two well-received full-length albums, "Sparkly Gold" and "Bleeding Moon."

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HOW IT RATES

IF AND IT -- "GRRR BOO HISS (CABIN RECORDINGS II)"

★★★

Self-produced

-- Based on a four-star scale

In October, the band returned to the same remote cabin in the foothills of the White Mountains in New Hampshire where it recorded "ratpig" for another single daylong recording session. Now, as 2012 draws to a close, if and it has released the results of that day's work back in the cabin in the form of a new EP, "Grrr Boo Hiss (Cabin Recordings II)."

If you're already familiar with if and it, you know what to expect: A bit of lo-fi experimentation and post-folky delivery, nicely wrapped in an indie-rock sensibility. The arrangements are still sparse, the vocals still just slightly off key. All of the key elements that make up the if and it signature sound are still in place.

Production is still minimal, with just a hint of reverb on the guitar and a touch of vocal echo in certain spots. But there is growth here as well. "Grrr Boo Hiss" is not quite the lo-fi affair that "ratpig" was. Proggy keyboards add an ethereal touch to "Speaking Roses," while the haunting backing vocals on "Distant" give the track a unique, mysterious, siren-like quality.

The standout track on "Grrr Boo Hiss" is "OOB." Ragged harmonies and a lone harmonica make this song almost sound like a great lost outtake from The Band. Seems appropriate, since if and it's cabin in the White Mountains is turning out to be a little like its own version of Big Pink.

The dominant mood on the record is one of introspection with a touch of melancholy. But the closing title track is almost jubilant. For all intents and purposes, it's an instrumental, save for a few boisterous onomatopoetic shouts. Coming after the sorrowful "OOB," this one sounds almost joyful. The band's strength is emotional depth, but it's nice to hear it cut loose and have fun (even for just a brief song).

It would have been easy for if and it to churn out another carbon copy of "ratpig." And many of the elements that made that EP such a unique listening experience are still here.

But the best sequels always build on the original, which makes "Grrr Boo Hiss" the perfect companion piece to "ratpig." Here's hoping if and it make another trip to that cabin next year.

Visit ifandit.bandcamp.com/album/grrr-boo-hiss-cabin-recordings-ii to download your copy of "Grrr Boo Hiss" for $4. Check ifandit.com for more information. 

Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be reached at:

rjohnson.rock@gmail.com

 

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