The three members of surf-pop band Governess met through parenting and community organizing, so it’s no surprise that the band’s music combines a maturity of perspective with a kind of restless energy. With driving rhythms and sharp, reverb-soaked guitars matched by hypnotic vocals, this self-titled debut album can lure you into intellectual heavy lifting while nestling you in droning harmonies.
Governess’ drummer and vocalist Erin McCarley brings her experience in D.C.-area bands like Pygmy Lush and Hand Grenade Job to the trio, also made up of bassist Kieca Mahoney and guitarist Kim Weeks. The band made its recorded debut last year with “Animals,” a propulsive single that introduced the group’s penchant for just-under-the-surface tension, melodic hooks, and reverb-laden harmonies. These habits are on full, refined display on its self-titled debut: Governess can be equal parts subdued and buzzy, dynamic and restrained. On “Elegy,” guitars screech and crackle while McCarley sings a haunting refrain. Midway through the album, “Controltop” shows the band slowing down and leaning into its minimalist urges; the song relies almost exclusively on voice and bass before more instrumentation crashes in. “Controltop” may veer toward being a stylistic outsider, but its pulsing momentum and McCarley’s arresting, versatile voice anchors it with the rest of the album. But “Controltop” isn’t the album’s only slow-tempo dirge: “Patterns,” the tape’s last track, also slowly winds down, with vocal harmonies reminiscent of early Sleater-Kinney.
Underneath the instrumental surface, Governess’ lyrics contain impressive depth. The album’s opening song, “Broken Glass,” combines an ode to the difficulties of puberty with a testament to the frustrating realities of sexism. “Animals” contemplates the harshness of the natural world, the taxing nature of parenting, and the coexistence of beauty and loss. The songs often feature layers of harmonies crooning deceptively simple, repeated phrases that are simultaneously breezy and intriguing, gently prodding you to consider the words more deeply. The music is surfy, but the album is no beach read; it’s closer to enigmatic poetry.
Overall, the collection of eight songs hums with catchy but reined-in energy; the songs groove and grow, but without ever becoming too aggressive. Even on upbeat tracks like “Zipless” and “Broken Glass,” the band’s energy feels focused and fun, not reckless. Despite momentary explosions, the forward momentum of the songs feels considered: The band writes its music collaboratively, with each member contributing unique lyric- and music-writing skills. As a result, Governess comes off as lovingly fussed-over—like an energetic child—then allowed to grow, sometimes in strange or unexpected directions.
While Governess sometimes touches on the trials of parenting, Infinity Crush’s latest album, Warmth Equation, concerns itself with the loss of a parent. Maryland songwriter Caroline White wrote much of the bedroom-pop album while grieving the death of her father, and its 12 tracks cover a wide range of the emotional aftermath of loss and the process of mourning.
Infinity Crush’s previous releases are mostly scratchy demos that White released online throughout 2013. Warmth Equation is Infinity Crush’s first release through the Texas-based label Joy Void Recordings. White wrote most of what you hear on Warmth Equation alone, and she’s joined on the record by Derrick Brandon, who added guitar and keyboards. While White’s strong poetic and songwriting sensibilities are evident in the early Infinity Crush demos, they shine and shimmer with a greater sense of completeness on Warmth Equation.
Sorrow animated the writing of many of these songs, but Warmth Equation isn’t an entirely sad album. Rather than simply recounting mourning, the songs show how many aspects of life are experienced through the prism of grief. Songs like “Lilacs” even tell of blissful romance (“When I feel you, I’m so in love / Like I’ve never been loved”), and “Over You” bubbles with self-confidence (“I’m not your princess in the land of tactless / So don’t waste my time”).
The album’s more devastating moments come from the combination of White’s cutting poetry and carefully layered instrumentation. Often, White’s voice is the most powerful instrument: potent but never forceful, wielded with care in layers of harmonies. “Wipe Down” swells with voices as it faces grief head-on (“I still think you’re coming home,” White sings). “Heaven,” the last song on the album, starts with just White’s voice and guitar, then builds, adding more voices and synthesizers. By the time White closes the album with anguished optimism (“Heaven might be real / So I will meet you there”), you feel as though the song has given you a glimpse into the emotional journey White has undergone.
It would be easy to categorize Warmth Equation as simply bedroom pop, but the 12 tracks push at the boundaries of the genre. The bouncy choruses of “Over You” or “Pete and Pete” feel like shiny bubblegum pop; “Sun Ache,” the album’s shortest track, is heavy, dark, and sparse. In its most tender moments, the album can feel almost shoegaze-y in its synth swells and ethereal vocals.
Infinity Crush took its time writing and recording this record, working on it periodically between 2013 and 2015. As a result, it feels—like Governess—considered. It’s fleshed-out, but doesn’t feel calculated; its emotional immediacy is still direct and accessible. And despite being recorded over a couple years, it’s an impressively cohesive set of songs. Like the phases of grief, each song has a unique identity—but all serve a larger, more complicated narrative.