REVIEW: Hovvdy - Taster

Laura Kerry

A few weeks ago, your social media was probably flooded with images of your favorite musicians and enviable friends eating barbecue, attending shows, and taking selfies with other musicians, all with the hashtag #SXSW. When the tens of thousands of people leave the city every year, some bands remain, reminding us why Austin, Texas became the site of such festivities in the first place. One of those Austin bands is Hovvdy.

Comprised of Will Taylor and Charlie Martin, two drummers-turned-guitar players, Hovvdy has just released their debut album, Taster, on Sports Day Records and Merdurhaus. Starting with its name (a play on “howdy,” which was probably immediately obvious to most but took me a second, I’ll admit), the band feels like a tribute to its location. They met in 2014 through the local music scene, and they’ve collaborated with fellow Austinites Loafer—splitting an EP with them last year—and Ben Littlejohn of the band Bent Denim, who mastered the lo-fi mix of Taster.

In theme, Taster also leans towards a local scope. When the lyrics emerge clearly enough from the compressed murmurs that Hovvdy favors (at least one track features original iPhone recordings), they reveal reflections on a small, intimate scale. Throughout the album, there are phone calls unreturned (“Try Hard”), old friends who become friends again (“Friend”), packing shit up (“In My Head”), and the most local of events, a state fair (“Favorite”). Even when they get philosophical, they do so humbly: “I’m one hundred percent made up of things I don’t understand,” they sing over a ‘50s chord progression on “Can’t Wait,” making their existential angst all the more moving for being relatable.

The music shares that intimacy. Despite being steeped in fuzz and feedback, Taster offers songs that are warm and emotionally direct. With muddy, downtempo, guitar-driven instrumentals as a solid foundation, Hovvdy foregrounds simple but engaging melodies that have a melancholic, nostalgic feel. And because of the haze, the sporadic moments of clarity are especially striking. On “Favorite,” for example, the compressed but close voice stands out against a cloudy guitar and faded synth, making a simple song feel large, pretty, and heartbreaking; on “Try Hard,” the percussion is crisp in the foreground, giving the song special urgency; and on “Pretend,” an outlier for highlighting the electronic sounds only hinted at earlier, the differentiated synth voices and beat loops provide some respite from the guitar fuzz just three songs before the end, and the line, “Pretend to be what I never will,” takes on extra force.

Hovvdy appears to do very little pretending, though; they're no-frills, earnest songwriters who have created a polished bedroom pop album (not always an oxymoron) out of layers of rhythm-heavy fuzzy guitars and breezy melodies. Born out of Austin, they return there now after taking their contemplative show on the road for a brief tour. Let’s see where they go next.