Before I dive in in earnest, I should probably disclose a few reasons why I’m predisposed to enjoy Quilt’s new album, Plaza. Guitarist and singer Anna Fox Rochinski grew up in my hometown, and there’s a chance that the song “Eliot St.” takes its name from the street where a childhood friend lived in the part of Boston the band called home for a time, after they graduated from the nearby art school where they formed. Then there’s the fact that one of the few songs I’ve used the app Shazam for is Quilt’s “Lost & Lewd,” off of their debut self-titled LP from 2011, when it came on in the coffee shop down the street. None of that actually matters, really, except that I found it hard to distinguish between the uncanny feeling that stemmed from personal experience and that arising from the music itself, and it seems worth sharing.
Without a doubt, though, Quilt—now based in Brooklyn—creates music that inherently contains a sizable dose of the uncanny. In their first two albums, the band strongly echoed ‘60s psych-rock and folk, reproducing familiar old sounds in reverb-heavy guitars, banjo picking, and clear harmonies. Plaza continues the retro strain. Starting with the opener, “Passerby,” they set the tone for mystical rock with flute accents, a reverb-soaked picking pattern, and a guitar solo that meanders with the twists and bends of a sitar. Sometimes, the lyrics border on surreal, such as in the otherwise straightforward “Searching For,” when male voices sing “The violet light that angles me composes my décor”—a line akin to any in a trippier Beatles song.
Though still infused with the 1960s, Plaza does cut back on nostalgia from the previous two albums, cleaning up muddy effects and tightening compositions. Distancing it from wandering psychedelic music, in the new album, Quilt combines more rigorous songwriting with a greater willingness to experiment, resulting in a kind of art rock appropriate for an art-school band. With its bouncy bass line and vocal bursts, “Hissing My Plea” sounds a bit like the weird pop of St. Vincent, and “Passerby,” while psych-rock in tone, harnesses Rochinski’s clear voice in curving vocal lines that recall the baroque melodies of Julia Holter.
But Quilt exhibits the greatest range of skill and the most development in the album’s quieter moments. One of the most striking songs on Plaza is “Padova,” a beautiful, pared-down folk song with light percussion and a theme of coping with loss. The lyrics are direct and heartbreaking: “There’s a ghost now in my soul / Trying hard now to play some rock and roll.” The previous song, “Something There,” among a few other tracks, takes a similar approach with pretty harmonies, a light wash of keyboard, and the simple lyrics, “If you are loving, she's loving / If you are leaving, she's leaving.”
On Plaza, Quilt is at their best—warm and pleasantly familiar but with a delightful spark of something new and a little weird. Whether or not you share geography with them or have heard them in a coffee shop before, they're the kind of band that strikes a chord.