by Marcus Gauthiér (@themarcu5)
When Ovlov announced their breakup last May (uh, about that... they just finished up a tour and they played the LVL UP record release show at Market Hotel), Steve Hartlett off-hand mentioned he had another album-plus of songs on the back burner and ready to go. Those songs turned into Stove's stellar debut Is Stupider, an album where Hartlett played all the instruments, truly showcasing his range.
Since then, Stove unexpectedly evolved from a solo project into a full-fledged band. With Stove, Hartlett often showcases his more melodic tendencies, often flirting with full-on pop (i.e. "Wet Food"). Here, on Is A Toad In The Rain, an admittedly low-stakes EP, Stove takes it one step further and gets decidedly ambitious and wide-ranging - I mean, not quite to the extent that he's writing 18-minute song cycles about minotaurs, but you know what I mean.
Before hearing "Dumb Phone," I probably wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me Hartlett even owned an acoustic guitar. He's prone to switching things up, but "Dumb Phone" is a curveball and a half, with acoustic guitars and gorgeous paired vocals by Jordyn Blakely. "Dumb Phone" recalls some of the recent acoustic stuff by Bob Mould. Hartlett seems to have suddenly found a new direction playing more laid back songs that bring his (always great) songwriting to the forefront, a significant sonic departure from days of Ovlov past.
The first two songs here are somewhat reminiscent of A Ghost is Born-era Wilco, my favorite record of theirs by a long-shot. "Goose Ghost" sits on two chords, waiting for a cacophony that finally comes in at the 2:45 mark with an electric guitar outburst that suddenly comes to a halt just when you expect it to take off. "Graduate and Congratulate" is gentle and melodic in a way I really never expected out of Stove, with a bit of funkiness that fits nicely with neatly restrained guitar soloing.
The next three songs are a bit more of what you'd expect from Stove: occasionally noisy, definitely lo-fi, some buzzsaw guitars here and there, and a very Deerhunter-ish song ("Tiny Gaze"). And then there is "Dumb Phone". Even on an EP with more subdued and catchy songs, this easily stands out and makes you think you accidentally skipped to a different playlist. If ever Hartlett wanted to prove he could write a top-40 single, this is it.
"The Oregon Trail" then closes out, sounding like nothing else on here either - instead, it shares many traits with the recent Milo+Stove release Hartlett made with his cousin. It's instrumental and a little ambient, almost veering towards trip-hop.