Don't (entirely) believe the hype

This is one of the more lauded "independent" albums of last year. It's not independent, of course--the album is distributed by a major label. The only indie thing about this set is the somewhat lackadaisical approach to the song arrangements.

In the Valley Below
The Belt

In the Valley Below is just the latest L.A. pop/rock duo to jump on the road to stardom. Angela Gail and Jeffrey Jacob manage to meld disparate voices and (it seems) diverging musical tastes into a simmering, accessible pop-rock broth. Is this album great? No. But I find a lot of interesting ideas in the compromises.

Gail has a hint of rootsy attitude in her vocals, while Jacob is studio smooth with his. The overall production tends toward gauzy laptop, with the tempos kicking up a bit faster than average. There are some indie rock kick beats, the occasional americana nod, some blues lead licks and more, but everything is smoothed out into a processed sound.

Which isn't a bad thing. I can hear why so many critics love this album. The writing is sharp and the musical ideas are clearly expressed. I like this album, and the main reason I don't love it is the lack of depth below the shiny surface. That's largely a function of the production, but I wonder if Gail and Jacob have held back just a bit in order to maintain accessibility.

There's a lot to like here. The feel is smooth and sophisticated, and the lyrics certainly don't insult the intelligence. If Jacob and Gail can dig deeper next time around, greatness might be waiting.

Jon Worley

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