I’ve said before that discussing decidedly retro-leaning acts can make for a tough exercise, in part because they’re rarely going to stand outside the shadow of their obvious influences, and also because the time and sound evoked can be very hit-or-miss in terms of how well it connects, even if one has a natural affinity for the sound and spirit. And personally, the reason I don’t tend to cover many acts in that vein is because it’s all so niche in its approach, and also because said acts are difficult to discuss at length – especially when I’m often left wishing they would push forward instead of backward.
So I’m not sure if it will sound hypocritical in saying that, while I didn’t care for The Cactus Blossoms more contemporary approach to their 2019 album Easy Way (contemporary, as in, ‘70s Simon and Garfunkel-inspired, that is), I very much enjoy their pivot back to those easy Everly Brothers-inspired harmonies and the ‘50s-country and pop-inspired palette they started with in their career on their latest project, One Day. It mostly feeds into what I said before about how hit-or-miss this sort of throwback pastiche can connect, but it also says a lot about how that mileage will vary from one person to another.
So yes, I should argue that this is an overall step back for the duo. And indeed, between writing that doesn’t feel like it pushes as hard as it could and a generally low-key, almost sleepy tone to the pacing and progression, I would say that they’re still standing within the shadow of that influence rather than infusing their own character into the mix. But when it’s delivered so plainspoken and effectively and the general harmonies and tones are this warm and lush, it’s hard to really complain all that much; this is just simply the side of the duo that I think works really well.
And that’s the key to this album. It’s a brisk listen that settles in quick and is overall very comfortable, which can be both a positive and negative point. On one hand, the production is rock-solid across the board and the songs are augmented by those lush, gentle, ‘60s-inspired textures in the firm acoustics and simultaneous electric and bass grooves. But it’s also an example of an album where highlighting what truly sticks out is hard to pinpoint, even if there are some subtle standouts between the firm rollick of opener “Hey Baby,” the light and bouncy pedal steel interplay on “Is It Over,” the slightly jauntier “Runaway” that adds a welcome change of pace for the album, the lush hook of “I Could Almost Cry,” and Jenny Lewis stepping in to provide an excellent counterbalance on “Everybody.” Consistency is a huge strength of this album, but it’s also a slight hindrance, especially when the second half starts to drag a bit.
It’s also that weird duality that informs the writing, which may be lacking the more distinctive details to stand out much, but is also reminiscent of those older songs that became classics for how simply plainspoken they were at their core. And it’s those mature reflections of love, loss, and a reflection of both that informs this album, outside of the title track, which tries to play things cool by being a kiss-off track and isn’t a tone these guys can sell that well.
The other stark track that feels out of place is “Ballad of an Unknown,” which I like for that stark minor echo lingering through it, but feel that it’s used more to preach about the plights of the homeless, rather than inspire action. And yeah, that’s a sharp pivot in comparison to the discussion thus far, which puts me in a weird place with the Cactus Blossoms, because their attempts at branching out in sound and content have often me left me cold in the past and continue to here at points. And yet, I also want them to exit their comfort zone every now and then, even if that’s where they best operate. All in all, though, a solid return to form for the duo – I just have to wonder where they go from here.
- Favorite tracks: “Hey Baby,” “Everybody” (feat. Jenny Lewis), “Is It Over,” “Runaway,” “I Could Almost Cry”
- Least favorite track: “One Day”
- Favorite individual moment: Right when Jenny Lewis slips in on “Everybody.”