Soft rock has its place. It’s good in old folks homes, in the moving/inspirational/epiphanic moments of romantic comedies… but soft rock doesn’t fit in as the bastard child of one surprisingly good band, Luxe, a somewhat unknown early collaboration between Torquil Campbell, Chris Dumont and James Shaw (of Metric), and Campbell’s newest involvement, Stars. Memphis formed during Dumont’s vacation in Campbell’s hometown of Vancouver, B.C. They got together, spilled their creative juices (eek) and Memphis was born.
A Little Place in the Wilderness, Memphis’ second full length, is trying to capture what it feels like to be sinisterly dreamy and complex enough to make a dent in the full frontal musical assault that constantly bombards us. The soft whisper of Torquil Campbell never strays far from subjects like love letters, drinking songs or the ever-fascinating campfire ghost stories and it seems like this time around he’s trying to cover a little more ground. The capriciously simple Stars aesthetic has been stretched, mellowed out and laden with horns and strings, ironically making for a barer and less excessive sound.
Memphis is Stars’ more polite, less interesting and over-calculating kid sister. You want to like her, and you do – for her carefully calibrated horns section and her slight romanticism, but she just bores you. Soft croons of dreaming and falling apart are a turn-off rather than an emotive basis for this intimate and restrained album.
“In the Cinema” and “Incredibly Drunk on Whiskey” really remind me of the Pernice Brothers. The slight, cozy voice of Torquil Campbell so closely resembles Joe Pernice’s smooth poppy style it’s uncanny. Their approach is the same too- a wistful buildup to catchy phrasing, plowing ahead with exacting accompaniment that feels so crisp. Some tracks are full and lush, paced with delicate drumming and murmuring vocals, like “Time Away” and “From the Highest Room”, or creepily solemn and cerebral like “A Ghost Story”. Either way Memphis is quietly captivating, whilst still seeming tedious and tired at times.
I just wanted something more from this album. The delicacy of soft indie rock bands such as the Sea and Cake and the pop sensibilities of the Pernice Brothers shine through on A Little Place in the Wilderness, but there isn’t any climax in their progress or apex to their approach. It’s like a gloriously funny setup with no punch line. I’ll listen to them again, and I’d probably come early to watch them open for a band I really like. I don’t love this album or their sound, but I appreciate the effort of two musicians stepping outside of their style to try something new.