On the rare occasion that you are given the honor of watching a band grow from humble and minimal beginnings to something more, it is something that must not be taken lightly. So it is with caution I approach this review of Reservoir as, buried somewhere in the midst of seemingly hundreds of boxes of albums awaiting recategorization is a slim jewel case by a band called Ah Holly Fam’ly. Xeroxed on simple paper is a cover that possesses a simple title: Ah Holly Fam’ly Sings Oh Holy Family.
Jump back a few years to rural Idaho, Moscow to be specific. And that’s where my introduction to what was then a very small band transpired. To say I ultimately forgot about Ah Holly Fam’ly would be an understatement, as they eventually vanished off my radar. But reintroduction came just about one month ago, when a copy of PDX Pop Now! 2009 landed on my desk; their “EIEIO” was a focal point of the release for me, and it was with great pleasure I heard Reservoir was soon to be on its way.
Reservoir, unlike the early incantation of Ah Holly Fam’ly, features quite a few members and plenty of production. This isn’t, after all, a DIY release. But the sensibilities that drew me to Ah Holly Fam’ly in the first place reside: the orchestrated instrumentation is Idaho-worthy, a porch-top indie folk fit for backwoods, straw hats, and farm fields, but intricate and educated. “Young Veins” opens Reservoirs on a high point, starting softly but ultimately changes time signatures and simultaneously increases in volume.
To say that this high point, so early on, is the pinnacle would be fallacious; this album is filled with pinnacles. “All Unfolding” follows “Young Veins” and its cool opening guitar riff leads smoothly into soft strings and flute, and it is here we first hear Jeremy Faulkner’s soft, raspy vocals cooing in our ear. “Army Of Light / Honeymoon” returns to the “Young Veins” style of vocals, female-fronted but with accompaniment; it too alters time for an impressive bridge. “Stranger Maker” and “Loneliest City” follow “All Unfolding” as album favorites.
Despite unique instrumentation (the combination of strings and woodwind in this particular sense is a rarity to begin with), it is Faulkner’s most unique vocal style that pinpoints the beginnings of Ah Holly Fam’ly’s greatness. But without the flutes and finger-plucked guitars, the violins and cellos, the occasionally distinct lack of percussion (“Year Of The Viking”) and vocalists compiled atop vocalists, Ah Holly Fam’ly would likely not warrant the amount of greatness I endow upon them… It is with complete honesty that I say these words: Reservoir is, without a doubt, a contender for a spot in my top 10 albums of 2009.
Lucky Madison Records [CD, 2009]
1. Young Veins
2. All Unfolding
3. Year Of The Viking
5. Army Of Light / Honeymoon
6. Stranger Maker
7. Lucky Peak
8. Loneliest City
9. Salt Of The Century