Equipped with folky acoustic hooks‚ a prominent horn section and mythical lyrics about Ra the Egyptian sun god‚ Neutral Milk Hotel… um‚ The Pica Beats commence Beating Back The Claws Of The Cold. But while much of the young group's sound can be directly linked to a certain other band whose name I won't mention‚ Claws has enough strong moments to exist in its own right. A relaxed effort from start to finish‚ Claws offers melodic indie-folk that gradually builds instead of getting loud to command attention. What results an album that's perfect for rainy-day pondering or an introspective road trip‚ but sometimes too mellow to keep listeners hanging on singer Ryan Barrett's every word.
What makes the album sound great (in the background or forefront) is the depth in the instrumentation. Apart from standard guitar and drum sound‚ Pica Beats add fullness with their aforementioned horn section and a sitar. And while many young groups use such instruments to mask their lack of talent‚ Pica Beats have the chops to make it work. On "Hikikomori & The Rental Sisters‚" the group blend eastern with indie in a track that would have fit right in on Wes Anderson's Darjeeling Limeted soundtrack. Other songs like "Summer Cutting Kale" and "Shrinking Violets" gain a fuller sound by including an oboe and female vocals respectively.
Claws does take a minor misstep by having two of the first five songs instrumental. It's not that the instrumentals aren't strong‚ as "Martine‚ As Heavy Lifter" perfectly showcases Barrett's sitar skills‚ but given the already slow-paced nature of Claws‚ Pica Beats could keep more new listeners tuned in by pushing instrumental interlude lower in the lineup. In the end‚ though‚ what matters is whether the songs are good or not‚ and even the misplaced instrumentals deserve to be on the album. Claws requires some patience‚ but it has a lot of fun moments to offer those who stick with it.