On Broken Hearts/Bones, Parlour Tricks clean up and put their best feet forward (while wearing gilded sneakers, if the album art is any indication). Previously known as Lily & the Parlour Tricks — Lily being Lily Cato, the group’s lead singer and primary songwriter — the New York-based sextet met in college and released a self-titled EP in 2011. With a sound indebted to blues and soul, they were tagged with labels like “retro” and “vintage.” Ostensibly to avoid being pigeonholed, Parlour Tricks started integrating synths and a more modern outlook into their music, landing themselves The Village Voice’s award for Best Pop Band of 2014. Unfortunately, their first album turns out to be little more than it appears on the surface: generic indie pop that has absorbed old musical traditions, wearing its Top 40 and festival slot aspirations on its sleeve.
From the outset, Parlour Tricks make it clear they’re aiming for summer radio with the hooky trio of “Lovesongs”, “Gone”, and “The Storm”. Things get compelling on “Easy”, which begins with a foreboding synth beat and Cato’s smoky whispers. The song soars with belted choruses, sweeps of guitar, and sweet girl group harmonies courtesy of Morgane Hollowell and Darah Golub. Cato really hits her stride on the spoken-sung bridge, delivering one of the album’s best biting kiss-offs: “Now that I’m alone I’ve had a chance to get a little perspective/ I can tell you that your little heart is fucking defective.”
While personal heartbreak permeates Broken Hearts/Bones, the listener rarely gets to access the pathos of the subject matter. The wounds have healed, the scars smoothed over by Emery Dobyns’ shiny production and obscured by Cato herself, who focuses on meeting the notes and following the harmonies more than emoting through her words. The lyrics of the jaunty “Bukowski” and “Little Angel” showcase some personality, but the band fumbles their attempt at emotional weight on the snoozy and drawn-out “Walk in the Park”. Parlour Tricks have been admired in the past for their grit, but on Broken Hearts/Bones, they lose that quality in favor of polished surfaces.
Essential Tracks: “Easy”, “Little Angel”, and “Requiem”