Valleys: Sometimes Water Kills People

Sometimes Water Kills People is the follow-up collection to 2008's Night War by the Montreal-based Valleys (formerly There Were Valleys), a four-piece formed by lead storytellers Tillie ( Matilda) Perks and Marc St. Louis in 2005. The thirty-nine-minute sophomore outing finds the group specializing in haunting folk incantations of a decidely lo-fi and sometimes psychedelic bent. Imagine a melodically-rich melding of Mazzy Star and A Silver Mount Zion and you're halfway there.

“Killer Legs” inaugurates the album with folk-blues chants and twanging electric guitars before exploding into a psych-folk fireball that identifies the Constellation band as a kindred spirit. “The Heavy Dreamer” comes into focus through a cloud of distortion, with paired vocals languorously uttered amidst rambunctious drum beats and slide guitars that eventually drown in an undertow of distortion. “Tan Lines” weaves the duo's vocals through a backwoods forest of brooding melodies that's more than a little haunting, while the trippy ballad “The Breakers” closes the album with Simon & Garfunkel-styled vocal harmonies and phase-treated guitars. The group clearly knows its way around a sophisticated arrangement when it needs to—check out the cinematic coda to “Santiago” as a particularly fine example. The album's instrumentals are tolerable enough but pale when heard alongside the vocal tracks: “CR68C” serves up six minutes of bruised, feedback-drenched electric howl with support from a plodding acoustic guitar, and “Lu Sujet Est Délicat” adds chanted vocals to what's primarily a psych-folk incantation.

In the long run, it's the songs featuring Matilda's lead vocals that draw the listener in most of all. On “Santiago,” her lighter-than-air voice acts like a seductress whispering into your ear, while her hushed vocal in the timeless folk dirge “Slow Path” may remind some listeners of Hope Sandoval. Her singing likewise elevates the baroque folk of “Silent Woods,” so much so one might easily miss the synthesizer warbling through the background.

October 2009