Red Velvet Snow Ball
Xander Singh isn't the best singer in the world—he sounds almost exactly like the guy in the Morning Benders—but he sings with admirably hard-won conviction and nerviness, as if all those moms and teachers who encouraged him to speak up over the last 20-some years are finally starting to register. This is part of Red Velvet Snow Ball's abundant charm. There are overly drawn-out notes and some pitchy warbles that make for some awkward moments on "Allison" and "The Annexation of Puerto Rico," but despite being burdened with a Sufjan-like air of fragility, there's a refreshing sense that Singh is going for it here, two LPs into Pepper Rabbit's career, and maybe the first time in his life.
His conviction snakes through a maze of current indie sidetracks: some songs tread in Grizzly Bear's delicate footing, others dole out herky-jerky rhythms paralleling Local Natives, and bouts of MGMT-like psychedelia pop up occasionally. Though the album as a whole is based in folk, it's bolstered by nearly a dozen instruments, from analog synths to clarinets, spread between Singh and multi-percussionist Luc Laurent. Publicists are quick to point out that Singh used to work at a vintage music store—on credit—taking home a new instrument each week to learn, by way of YouTube videos. This explains the band's "more is better" approach to composition, but also the album's wide-eyed learner quality. Singh is a good pupil, alternating the pace of tracks to avoid making the all-encompassing orchestrations feel forced—in the end, Pepper Rabbit is a smart, promising band with a considerable ear for melody, well on their way to outdoing their contemporaries rather than just reminding us of them.
Photo by Kyle Johnson courtesy Kanine Records