by Chris Jones (@casperthejoke)
Stove make a triumphant return with their new album ‘s Favorite Friend, out this week on Exploding in Sound Records. Originally started as a solo project by Ovlov’s Steve Hartlett, Stove has blossomed into a full on collaborative act, with drummer/vocalist Jordyn Blakely, bassist Alex Molini and guitarist Mike Hammond making vital contributions. It should be noted that this is Hartlett’s second release of 2018, following Ovlov’s critically acclaimed TRU. But that isn’t to say he is just clearing out his musical archives. Instead, we find him branching out as a songwriter, experimenting with new musical ideas while simultaneously staying true to himself.
Part of what makes this album so great is its focus on collaboration. Jordyn Blakely’s gentle, dreamy voice is a perfect foil to Hartlett’s impassioned, earnest yowl. Their voices meld beautifully on “Nightwalk,” and Blakely even has a moment in the spotlight, taking over lead vocals on “Duckling Fantasy.” Beyond being an excellent singer, Blakely demonstrates her intimidating proficiency behind the drum set on this LP. On “Stiff Bones,” she whips out a complex rolling tom beat that recalls something from a Kal Marks song , and on “Annoying Guy,” she delivers a pummeling blast beat that would put most black metal drummers to shame. Other members get their chance in the spotlight too, with bassist Alex Molini laying down the law on “Mosquiter” and Mike Hammond shredding guitar throughout the album.
Though there is increased involvement from the other band members, Hartlett’s astounding vocals and lyrics stand out here. On opening track “Safe Guy,” he explores his entire vocal range, laying low in the verses while reaching emotional peaks in the choruses. He also pens some of his most crushing lines on this record. On album closer “Animortal,” he sings about shitty friends and how it feels to grow apart from people you were once close to, opening with, “I’m a stray dog loyal to friends that smack me on the head when I won’t sit.” This is Hartlett at his most vulnerable, but there is an underlying strength in exposing that vulnerability that is deeply compelling.
Beyond his excellent lyrics, Hartlett exhibits significant growth as a songwriter on this LP, reaching beyond what we have come to expect of him musically. On “Difficult Dooley,” the album’s most experimental track, he pitches his vocals down, utilizes a jazzy groove and employs an unusual time signature. “Annoying Guy,” probably the heaviest song on the record, sounds almost like a metal track, complete with a recurring blast beat section and a searing noise solo. Furthermore, the album is chock full of overdubs, with acoustic guitars and synthesizers often filling out the arrangements. Needless to say, Hartlett’s songs have progressed since Ovlov’s beloved debut, 2013’s am, which relied almost exclusively on electric guitars, bass and drums.
Though this is Hartlett at his most ambitious, he is still the same person we have come to know and love. The burning solos, the yearning vocals, the excellent hooks and melodies are all in place. The difference here is that he is pushing just a little further, testing his limits just a little more than we are used to. And that’s what makes this record truly special, that it proves Hartlett can maintain his sense of identity while stepping out into the unknown.