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Pop - Released August 2, 2019 | I Love You

Dreamy Texan indie folk duo Penny & Sparrow have been at it since 2011, diligently touring, recording, and adapting their earnest, electro-organic, Bon Iver-inspired approach over five full-length releases. Built around the simple palette of acoustic guitar and two voices singing in harmony, members Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter have flirted with the CCM scene, made lush semi-orchestral overtures, recorded a Christmas album, and gone lo-fi with a self-recorded living room album. They've squeezed a lot of work into their eight years together and on 2019's Finch, their sixth album, the two friends continue their evolution both as people and artists. Somewhat of a grab bag of previously explored and as-yet-untested Penny & Sparrow styles, Finch sees the duo carrying on with the partly stripped-down feel from 2017's Wendigo, with detours into rich string-laden balladry, nods to their own spirituality, a bit of indie pop soul, and plenty more of their still-earnest harmonic rafter-raising. Co-produced with Chris Jacobie in San Antonio, Finch's arrangements favor Jahnke's and Baxter's inherent sense of drama, with thick layers of reverb painting the mostly organic instrumentation as the two singers dip and swell with practiced finesse. The lovelorn stomp-and-clap feel of "Eloise" plays to the duo's strengths in a rousing crescendo of soulful falsettos, while the springy folk-pop of "Don't Wanna Be Without Ya" takes their romantic nature in a more up-tempo direction. With its gentle strumming, light synth burbles, and woozy strings, "Cult Classically" is a mid-album standout and another vehicle for those effortless harmonies Penny & Sparrow seem to handle so well. A few songs later, the breezy "Recuerda" swoons affectionately amid eerie swirling synths and quavering electric guitars. For all of their ambitions, though, the ghost of Bon Iver's sensuous cabin pop still looms rather large in Penny & Sparrow's aesthetic, and their own personalities have to work double time to rise above the contemporary soft pop parameters in which they've chosen to work. They do succeed in places, especially on the two aforementioned cuts, though it would be interesting to hear them take a few legitimate left turns here and there. ~ Timothy Monger