New Music Tuesday: Us – No Matter Where You Are

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At first brush the album comes off so sugary sweet that even the most ravenous of the sweet-toothed pop enthusiasts might find themselves running to the nearest grungy, rough salt lick. You can’t blame them: these two young musicians, turned internet sensations, turned doting husband-wife alt-country pop pairing sure do love each other a whole heck of a lot. On further inspection, however, deeper dimension begins to appear, and a more complex confection takes shape.

Us, comprised of Californian musicians Michael Alvarado and Carissa Rae, first gained attention as prolific internet entertainers, posting well-received covers in long form on YouTube (Scream & Shout, Pop). More recently they’ve taken to the micro-video social media site Vine posting imaginative #6secondcovers including one of Royals by Lorde, a Michael Jackson Tribute, and this one by Earth, Wind, and Fire:

Clearly talented folk. And so gosh darn cute. And, oh-by-the-way-did-i-mention, recently betrothed.

So it’s no surprise that this, their second indie release should be a joyful ode to young love. It’s what The Civil Wars might sound like if they subscribed to a Keep-On-The-Sunny-Side-Of-Life mantra. The first 6 minutes of music alone signal the sort of proud, triumphant alt-country sound to drown out any Lady Antebellum, Sugarland, or like-minded group out there. All done with warm, airy harmonies and exultant, anthemic instrumentation. (The track “Falling In Love” alone is fit for any cheesy fondue-filled scene of a candle-lit dinner by the Seine, complete with cornball accordion accompaniment.)

Hyperbolic comparisons aside, given all the joyful blissful trappings and trinkets of romance and companionship found in the first few tracks, it’s easy to overlook the presence of other, less gleamingly happy tales, but they exist. They may seem like just bumps on the road of this couple’s otherwise exuberant love and satisfaction in each other, but the presence of these more somber pauses are no less well-crafted and executed.

If anything, these moments, like that of the biting “Final Bow” or the plaintive “Come Back,” are an even stronger representation of the duo’s skill in storytelling than are the rest of the lot. In a sea of otherwise gleeful optimism, these stories could just as easily come off as forced or dishonest, but they’re not. On “Heartbreak,” the harmonies that had formerly assumed a bright and airy quality now sound delicate, fragile, and breathless, perfectly in step with the storyline of love labors now lost.

There seems to be a resurgence of sorts in the field of talented male-female duos, a number of which are comprised of husband-wife pairings (Shovels & Rope and Grace & Tony among others). Though on the surface Us may appear to lack the emotional depth of some of their contemporaries, there’s no mistake that their peachy keen exterior hides some less-than squeaky clean damage and hesitation underneath that is definitely worth a listen.

Us – No Matter Where You Are
Independent, 2013
Rating: B
Listen Now: “No Matter Where You Are,” “Final Bow,” ” ‘Til the Morning Comes”

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