Spoiler alert: Home by Hovercraft are not chameleons. They have a fairly original sound achieved by using unusual instruments like a banjolin (which, by the way, is not a mandolin-banjo nor a Banjoline) and a step dancer (as percussion) mixed with classical elements like piano, mandolin, tuba, violin, xylophone, and drums. Of course, the sound doesn’t change enough throughout the album for me to consider the Dallas, Texas band to be musical chameleons. Are We Chameleons? is the debut album for the five-member group, so perhaps their next album could show a chameleon-like change. There’s no need for such change, though: they work their sound well.
Lead singer Seth Magill’s vocals are very similar to the National’s Matt Berninger’s but with more tremolo. Aside from a few verses, Seth’s vocals are always backed by those of his wife, Shawn Magill. It’s kind of like listening to Stars if the female singer never got to lead and the male singer had a much lower, more trembly voice. Full disclosure: I have never liked the pairing of a deep male lead vocals backed by soft, high female vocals. Still not a fan after this album. My favorite songs tended to be the ones with fewer backing vocals. Mrs. Magill has a lovely voice, it’s not her, it’s just that combo.
Like The National, the lyrics are a little cryptic. I’m pretty sure they’re instructing to either “snag” or “smack the lemons” and “save the dance for the queen” in “In Hand.” I have tried, but I have no idea where they’re going with that. “Relief” is the one song that made sense to me lyrically, it seems more like a traditional love song where one lover needs to see the other. “Waking Sleeping” keeps getting stuck in my head, but not in a good way. It’s because the line “How do you feel about this waking sleeping?” repeats so much that it’s just stuck in my head for the rest of the day after listening to it.
Though the album bears some resemblance to others (there are many comparisons to the National, “Talk” seems like it could be a Dave Matthews Band song, Stars came to mind a couple of times,) it is different enough for Home by Hovercraft to find their own success. The fact that they’re “the band with a step dancer” really gives them a niche (you should look up a video of a live performance, I didn’t realize how much of the percussion came from the Irish dancing until I saw it on YouTube.) I’m so used to reviewing bands that use synthesizers or keyboards to recreate sounds that I found it surprising to watch a video of the band performing and realizing that a certain sound was created with a mandolin, tuba, or shoes. The songs are organic and have understated drama. Though you’ll likely have no idea what the songs are about, they’re still pretty interesting to listen to.
MP3: Home by Hovercraft “In Hand”