The songs on Jeez Louise, Phil Hartunian’s fourth EP as Follies, are devilishly short. The entire EP clocks in under twelve minutes, and only one of its five songs is longer than three. Sometimes shortness comes from simplicity, sometimes from condensed ideas. On Jeez Louise, the shortness comes across as urgency and efficiency—not a wasted note, not much room to exhale. Hartunian’s voice is always fed through an effects chain that makes it warble from left to right, rumble up and down. For all 12 minutes, it’s very hard to pin down a center.
I saw Follies play some songs from Jeez Louise last weekend, in a room whose brick back wall reflected every sharp tone back through the room. The reflections, doubled by the reverb on Hartunian’s voice, created a space that sounded like a smooth substitute for Hartunian’s Bennington, Vermont dorm room, where the EP was written and recorded. Follies know exactly when to push the harshness—when to pluck a guitar line with a little extra force, when to let the cymbal crash ring—and exactly when to dial it back.
Hartunian’s guitar lines have always had a tendency to slink and slide from one note to another. Even on 2011′s Sway and last year’s split EP with Wishbone, his melodies have tilted towards the chromatic. The tracks on Jeez Louise push those ideas even further. The guitar line on “Fried Pride” sounds closer to to a synthesizer with glide turned up all the way, merging each note into the next. “Jeez Louise” rips through the cymbal wash, descending and ascending with the snare hits.
Jeez Louise is a harmonically dense EP, with exceptional richness for what is essentially a bedroom record, and it’s Hartunian’s production style that makes Follies begin to stand out as a band with a unique, identifiable sound. There’s a discernible palate on Jeez Louise—tape saturation, just-short-of-cheesy reverb, washed out cymbals, whip-craked snares, guitar fuzz that fills the entire frequency spectrum. It’s more refined than the production work on the Wishbone split, even if sonically it comes off as more fuzzy, drowned, obfuscated.
The EP’s art comes from a slide found covered in the ground in Vermont. The artifacts left on the photo—a portrait shot of a girl in a blue dress sitting on a lawn—cause caking, crags, and texture that interrupt the 2-dimensional clarity of a photo print. It’s a perfect analog for Hartunian’s style on Jeez Louise. There’s texture and there’s content, and the two are one.
Jeez Louise is out now.