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String Theory’s Felicia Lockhart says her songs aren’t personal and that she only channels her songs’ narratives, but since the success of last year’s Goin’ Back Someday she and her mates sound truly comfortable in their own skins for the first time. This batch of songs have an easy flow, each track gelling with the rest much like the ladies’ voices, and they all share a genuine sense of camaraderie that translates well.
Production is straightforward this time out, allowing the harmony vocals of bassist Dineen Mann and guitarist Joy Kirts to shine. Both were members of Kansas City based a capella group The Inlaws while lead singer Lockhart led country funk act Lemon before the three formed String Theory with drummer Beth Faulkner of rock trio Sloppy, a relative newcomer who was making her mark as a capable singer who also played drums.
The band’s fourth release for the Multiverse label finds them at turns pensive, insouciant, mournful and buoyant with an optimism built on confidence in their material. There’s always been a creativity along with an alt-folk sensibility to the band’s music, but on most of the first half of So Far Away, there’s something sneaky about tracks like “Breaking And Entering” and “Please Drive Me Crazy.” Sneaky because, while at first they seem so new and so perfect for this group, they’re the kind of songs the band has been doing all along. It’s just that they’ve never sounded so effortless before. And if you’re susceptible to earworms, watch out.
While still introspective and lyrically biting, these new songs both embrace the listener and lead them by the ears with a deceptively simple-sounding directness, made even more effective by sturdy arrangements and plenty of hooks. Touring has sharpened the band, their subtle interplay adding a welcome dimension to the proceedings. It’s this perfect blend of elements that give the album its most beautiful moments and an appealing replay value. “Faded” might have been maudlin in the wrong hands but here it’s an affecting moodpiece evoking a range of emotions, Lockhart’s keys especially haunting.
The band’s debut, Last Chances, fairly oozed with potential, but a cluttered mix and some detrimental vocal processing dimmed an otherwise fine effort. On “Manifest,” Lockhart sang “…unlike all the others that only last a day we’re here to stay,” declaring String Theory a band and not just a lead singer with backup. That album definitely showed their more folkrock roots yet still managed to surprise with some offbeat instrumentation. The band found a hit with “Skip This Part” after the song appeared in an indie film (absent from the official release soundtrack due to contract stipulations) but instead of trying to emulate its success they just kept on doing what they do. Extensive touring brought them to the attention of longtime manager Kip Black and a multi record deal with Multiverse soon followed.
Despite what felt like an eternity of well received concert dates and albums, Lockhart and her mates never showed any bitterness or frustration as they kept building on their gathering momentum. Ironically, the band points to a glammed up photo session they did “as a goof” that got them the visibility they were lacking, and while they’re grateful for the exposure they’re also quick to point out “that kind of stuff” is definitely not what they’re about. “We’re a band,” Faulkner said in a 2016 interview for Pitchpork. “What we look like is irrelevant. Music is meant to be heard, not seen.”
Guests Candace Mullin (from Iowa-based Shawl) and Pete Alistair (from Skwee and Genital Clarity) add color and atmosphere to “A Day Late” and “Tell Me,” respectively, while producers Brad Carter and Jessica Grier wisely keep the emphasis on the vocals yet allow each instrument to shine. Their sure hands guide “Messed Up” and “In The Morning,” making sure neither gets lost in its own self deprecation, but the band seems up to any task on So Far Away. It’s easily their surest effort to date with loads of rich harmonies and memorable melodies.
Like the character in “Trust” sings, “you never know what you’ll find ’til you open your eyes” so give this terrific latest from String Theory a listen.