Massachusetts art-kid trio Quilt have graduated from the 60s-inflected pop of their debut to an even trippier sophomore album, Held in Splendor. In their first proper studio album, Quilt reinforces their unique ability to allow their more often cited references to have a clear effect on their tunes without becoming hollow nods to nostalgia. Instead, the band’s folksy directness, matched to their gorgeous, slow-paced psychedelia, creates a sound that could have happened 50 years ago but still feels utterly sincere now.
Held in Splendor is designed for the thinking dude or dudette who still flips way back in their record collection to find comfort. Contemplative, artsy, and dream-like, the record wavers around greatness, reaching the sky for some truly touching yet simple moments that only come from a great understanding of balance and sound. At other times, it drifts too far into Syd Barrett-insane territory, stringing together words more for the mouth feel. Not to say that, too, isn’t delightful in its own way.
But even at its most opaque, Held in Splendor is anchored in the sweet, genuine vibe of band members Shane Butler, Anna Fox Rochinski, and John Andrews. Unlike other modern psych-rock acts, Quilt doesn’t spend their time in isolation analyzing their own mood swings like White Fence or staring down lovesick at a guitar like Unknown Moral Orchestra. They don’t toil in a bad mood or get so wild they spin off into the ether together, rocketing past your comprehension. Instead, each song feels directed straight at you. At their most stripped, “Talking Trains” uses a beautiful, almost Celtic lilt with you-speak that sounds more than personal to Quilt—it sounds personal to the actual you, too.
“Talking Trains” is notable not just for its slightly downer message all about your life, but also Rochinski’s gorgeous voice, laid bare. More so than during their debut, Rochinski steps to the front, sharing the mic less with Butler and revealing a quirky, inviting, haunting and wet voice that highlights the band’s crystal-sharp lyrics and hallucinatory imagery. “Arctic Shark” finds Rochinski softly “mourning how a frozen thing can thaw and turn to brine” as a George Harrison-esque sitar hits the right notes of relaxation in your mind, opening the record like a thick oriental rug. Later, on “Tie Up the Tides,” her clear, high-pitched voice strikes out over a strut-along beat, laced with Butler’s soft backing vocals as the two strive toward a “golden home.”
Instrumentally, each song is intricate and perfectly executed—woven and detailed. “Mary Mountain” builds a dual melody on top of a Western-style noodling guitar that slows and slides, backed by clear, kicking drumming that makes it sound like a perfect little pop number until the band skips a beat and gets heavy with the strumming, sending the single into something a little darker and more mysterious, the duo singing “somebody held us there”. Yet the song never feels drawn out or tedious. Similarly, “Tired and Buttered” and “I Sleep in Nature” skitter between styles, morphing and melting. It’s moments like these that make Held in Splendor both a perfect study in a style of yore and delightfully unexpected.
Held in Splendor, while mellow, never fades but keeps you involved with direct yet complex lyrics that unfold beautifully over well-executed song structures,. The record feels like a real experience instead of the simple mood music many psych-rock acts can amount to. Although a truly great record may be yet to come, Quilt’s sophomore release is already a joy so simple and pure it takes a moment to notice. But once you feel it, it will be a record you’ll return to for comfort and to help you quietly laugh back at the clock.