The Babies could be called a Brooklyn “supergroup,” as it’s led by Kevin Dorby, guitarist/bassist for Woods, and Cassie Ramone, lead singer of Vivian Girls. Not surprisingly, the band features elements of its principal’s main projects — Vivian Girls’ angsty pop, Woods’s campfire rock — but it manages to be more than the sum of its parts. Moreover, the band’s self-titled debut turns out to be a potent sonic portrait of its members’ stomping grounds. Mirroring the borough of its creation, The Babies is relaxed, rough, concerned with life’s sunnier moments as well the darker times, beer-baked, lean, lazy, and free. Tuning into its 30 minutes of slapdash brilliance is as invigorating and happy-making as a weekend spent scouring the streets of Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint.
Back in 2009, The Babies introduced themselves with “Meet Me in the City,” a jam fueled on nervous excitement, the soundtrack for the hours of the early evening when everyone is showering, planning get-togethers, and starting to drink. “Meet Me in the City” is about a perfect a summer anthem as you’re going to hear, and it’s one of the highlights of The Babies. But you’d be mistaken if you expected the rest of the album the to follow that song’s current of inebriated joy. Rather the Babies are more about rocking out their blues. Most of the album’s uptempo tunes eschew optimistic subject matter: “Sunset” is about what happens when your lover dies, “Run Me Over” reflects on a broken relationship.
On a similar level, none of the album’s bummer songs are overbearingly somber. The Babies’ bad news is likely to be mitigated by a rumbling groove or saved by a insistent melody. “Today’s a prison, today’s a cage,” Morby sings on “Voice Like Thunder,” but the twanging guitar track belies the downcast lyrics with hints of Appalachia and front-porch gospel. On “Wild 1” Ramone sings “I’m so sick and tired of the pain that you put me through,” but the song’s driving instrumental coda can’t help but be blissful.
The Babies reach this sweet spot between despair and elation on the strength of two-A.M. harmonies, subterranean arrangements, and spirited playing. Dorby and Ramone, who split vocal duties pretty much right down the middle, aren’t blessed with conventionally “good” voices: Dorby has the nasally howl of a young Bob Dylan, and Ramone frequently wavers off pitch. But the pair’s imperfections are just right for the Babies’ laid-back ethos and fit naturally alongside the band’s Basement Tapes-meets-Surfer Rosa accompaniment. Kind of like Brooklyn, which wants you to think it doesn’t care what you think, The Babies are impressively adept at making it look easy, at making it look like they’re not trying too hard. The truth is that there’s as much skill and passion going into this slumming side-project than most full-time bands could hope for.