Anachronism in 2014’s indie music scene is hardly a shock anymore. Last year was rife with albums knee-deep in the popular styles of the ‘70s (Daft Punk’s disco funk), ‘80s (Savages’ post-punk, Rhye’s Sade-like R&B), and ‘90s (Disclosure’s trip-hop/house). These among many more “what’s-old-is-new-again” efforts were not only accepted, but beloved.
Los Angeles guitarist and singer Nick Waterhouse takes us back even further on “Holly,” his second full-length. Its ten songs, none of which crack the four minute mark, are rooted in ‘60s R&B and soul. Akin to that of debut album “Time’s All Gone,” the music of “Holly” worships at the throne of Motown, the famous Detroit soul music label that made indelible dents on the pop charts forty-some years ago.
But Waterhouse is hardly the first to spearhead this particular revivalist movement: its modern roots can be traced to the popularity of the late Amy Winehouse to the critical adoration of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings to the charming bro-boogie of Mayer Hawthorne.
The half-hour running time of “Holly” is an easygoing stroll down US 101, void of U-turns or sudden stops. Each of Waterhouse’s tunes sets the tone early and rarely deviates. That’s hardly a complaint on standout tracks like opener “High Tiding,” which creeps along with a minimalist soul swagger and Waterhouse’s suit-and-tie croon. “This is a Game” provides the highest dose of energy, with organ and horn solos that prove the record’s most uninhibited moments, but the finest song here is “Sleepin’ Pills,” an endlessly catchy doo-wop saunter.
Waterhouse throws in a cover of "It #3" by California garage rocker Ty Segall, with whom he cut his teeth musically in the Orange County underground music scene. They’re not exactly birds of a musical feather: Waterhouse runs a pretty tight ship, while Segall tends to wreak guitar fuzz havoc. But the cover is executed with respect and appreciation for the source material, and finds the missing link between the two: the organ-filled surf rock of proto-punk rockers like The Sonics.
The second half of “Holly” falters a bit due to some stagnant instrumentation (“Well It’s Fine”) and clumsy lyricism (“Ain’t There Something Money Can’t Buy”). But there’s not a bad song on the record: it’s too curt to ever severely lose its footing. Rather, on his sophomore effort, Waterhouse demonstrates there need not necessarily be risk involved in providing reward to his listeners.