It feels like forever ago since I first laid my ears on Angela Gail and Jeffrey Jacob and their band In The Valley Below at SXSW 2013, but at long last do I have their debut LP, The Belt, in my possession. I compare this experience to gathering light in an empty lantern. With this LP in my hands (or on my harddrive. Whatever. It’s mine.), I can recapture the memory of that day I was in Austin, when this dark, stereoscopic sound resonated from a stage out on Rainey Street and lifted the hairs right off my arms.
I’ve been raving about this Echo Park duo for some time now, and for good reason: they’re damn fantastic at what they do. Their sound is at one time poppy and uncanny another, loud and grandiose, yet also ethereal and sweeping, filling this void in modern pop where most artists lack the confidence necessary to completely wrangle the sounds coming out of their instruments. The only thing In The Valley Below lacks is exposure, but that’s all going to change after The Belt.
Relationships are complicated. Let’s put that to bed early. It’s a concept that’s been explored through just about every region of art (music included), and now it’s up to artists to interpret it in a way that makes the concept feel fresh again. That’s exactly what In The Valley Below has done here on their debut, which is rife with deft emotional lyricism that explores the theme fully, from its life-affirming highs to its stomach-churning, sucker-punching lows.
It’s majorly supported by Gail and Jacob’s composed vocal delivery, which appears to be directed not just at their listeners, but also to each other, establishing a deep-seated connection between the two that feels familiar and lived in, and one unashamed to reveal itself before an audience.
In The Valley Below’s dark, melodic pop sound in the vein of Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel greatly benefits The Belt’s lyrical ambitions. For example, the purplish synths of lead single “Peaches” expand the track’s generic instrumental horizons to epic heights, enlivening the lyric “So let’s love for one song” along with every other moment that succeeds it.
Album highlights include the hit-waiting-to-happen “Neverminders,” which shoots toward the sky with its rocketing synths and arena-ready fuzzy guitars to drive home the hostile takeover that Gail and Jacobs suggest. “Hymnal” is the slow-burner amongst the group of tracks, gliding kaleidoscopicly along diffused xylophone keys and bass, and the chain-clinking, beat-making “Searching For A Devil” reveals to listeners the slight possibility that we might be getting dragged into a personal hell.
In The Valley Below’s energy is much of what makes the duo so illuminating to begin with. You simply don’t hear songs quite like the above tracks, along with other favorites such as the Genesis-esque “Take Me Back” or the Arcade Fire-inspired “Lover,” in this genre. They provide a refreshingly unique combination of twisted but honest sensualism and pop sensibility. In The Valley Below’s tracks are produced with the genre in mind, and so the attributes of their sound that would ordinarily be dismissed as outliers are harnessed to significant depth.
In The Valley Below was destined to become huge when I saw them almost two years ago, but 2014 is their time. The Belt is a solid showcase of the expansive dark textures I first experienced in Austin, with Gail and Jacob’s lovingly exercised lyrical and vocal delivery on full display. It’s one of the best debuts you’ll hear all year, and knowing that In The Valley Below is a Los Angeles band, that should get you as giddy as I am (and have been for some time).
The Belt is available August 26th on Caroline/Capitol Records.
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