Photo Ops, the stage name of singer/songwriter Terry Price, has released his third album, following 2016’s Vacation. On Pure at Heart, Terry works with jangly, shimmering instrumentals and higher-register vocal work as he sings lyrics with a reflective, indie-folk atmosphere. That description might make you think of groups like Big Thief, and that’s the album’s biggest problem: Though not without its moments, Pure at Heart generally sounds like music we’ve heard a thousand times before. Poor production decisions and one-dimensional stories don’t lessen this problem—the overuse of reverb sounding more like an attempt to blur sub-par vocals than anything else.
Pure at Heart’s first track gives a good idea of everything to follow. Acoustic guitar skips along with bland percussion as Terry sings about travel, both physical and emotional. Though not unlistenable, the song certainly isn’t exciting. A repetitive structure and boring chorus stretch over an all-too-long four-minute runtime. If the lyrics and general sound were stronger, this length wouldn’t even be worth mentioning. But the lyrics and sound aren’t strong at all. The same can be said for “Play On,” a track oozing with reverb and weak vocals. When “Don’t You Be Quiet” arrives with slightly better results, the first three songs have essentially ruined the experience; and it doesn’t help that the track sounds remarkably like a Vampire Weekend production. Terry may not have taken direct influence from the group, but the song is too similar to their work to sound like anything more than a bad rip-off.
Photo Ops’ latest just doesn’t work. There is certainly space for more poppy, indie-folk in the music world, but any artist who wants to pursue the style needs a better game-plan than just following in the steps of a million other singers. Terry’s weak vocals and boring melodies make Pure at Heart’s relative unoriginality stand out even more, making the whole project an almost frustrating listen. You might appreciate this album if you’re looking for mostly unobtrusive background music, but if you’re looking for anything more–emotional depth, unique melodies, strong writing–you should look elsewhere.