reviewed by Michael Thomas
There are many ways you can set a mood for an album, or even a song. For Sweet Pea, the brainchild of the very busy musicians Rebecca Hennessy and Julia Hambleton, all it takes to set a mood is brilliant compositions and a big band. Hennessy and Hambleton play enough instruments to form a large band already, but with a number of other excellent musicians by their side, What It Is manages to make every single song memorable and unexpected.
What It Is gets its name from one of the songs, a really whimsical piano song that reflects on the purpose of what love is and what it does. Indeed, that wonderful emotion permeates most of the songs, sometimes a romantic love but sometimes just a love of life or a love of your friends. The love on this album is occasionally tinged with bitterness, but it’s largely positive, even when the person in the song doesn’t have love right now.
From song to song, it feels like a huge roulette is spinning, selecting a certain number of instruments for the song. The first two songs, surprisingly, sound Caribbean-inspired. A nice wash of synth-y weirdness from the excellent Ryan Driver backs up “Didn’t Do Wrong,” a song in which someone is admonished for lying about doing something bad. It’s followed by the exceedingly bright, ukulele-led “I Think I Wanna Dance,” with Hennessy and Hambleton deciding to dance, not even caring if someone sees. By the time it gets to the chorus, the instrumentation suddenly gets intense and there’s an element of planned chaos that makes this song one of the best.
It’s hard not to love the cheeriest parts of the album. “On My Way” makes me want to stroll down a sidewalk in the morning sunshine and dance. Horns set up somewhat of a hook for a song about continually moving forward. “She Turns Her Music On” has a lovely mix of accordion, bass (Michael Herring), ukulele and drums (Dave Clark) that make the song sound like a modern version of “The Girl From Ipanema.” This song, though, is about a girl who escapes the blahs of the real world by putting on her headphones and playing music. “Going Home” is like a musical dose of encouragement, with a chorus that says “Let’s sail the ocean, with our hearts wide open, into the setting sun.”
The quieter moments, of course, are beautiful too. “Heatwave,” the album closer, is so quiet and dreamy that it sounds like nothing else on this album. “I Bought This Bouquet” has a lovely accordion and ukulele intro, with subtle bass slowly creeping in. It takes the classic image of buying a bouquet to show love, but examining every aspect of the flower and explaining how it’s different than some other gesture.
Everything somewhere between cheery and thoughtful has its place. “Lanterns” takes another image—lanterns floating into the sky—to paint a beautiful picture, but the narrator is suffering from crippling self-doubt. In “Lovers,” the narrator sees that everyone but her seems to be in a relationship.
My words won’t do the composition of these songs justice. But just know that everything feels right, even if you’ve never imagined what any of these songs sound like. Sweet Pea is sweet indeed.
Top Tracks: “I Think I Wanna Dance”; “On My Way”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) +*swoop*