Reviewed by: Asher Wolf
If music styles were flavors of soda, Tele Novella would be pure syrup. The Austin based dream-pop quartet presents an aesthetic that billows like dye in water, bright colors mingling in a trippy cosmic soundscape with immersive reverb. On first listen, the maximalist fluorescence of the band’s sound has a homogenizing effect on House of Souls; the gurgling, detailed production threatens to become the focus of the music rather than an auxiliary bonus. Once the listener becomes acclimated, however, Tele Novella’s songwriting expertise rises to salience, reflecting a debt to 1960s psychedelia that runs much deeper than the band’s flamboyant sonic palette.
The opening track, “Sacramento”, rings with a fusion of the classic San Francisco sound (read: Jefferson Airplane) with contemporary baroque pop acts like Fleet Foxes, and Tele Novella reflects the folk influence shared by both genres. Drippingly catchy hooks spring from one another like fractals, and the zany structure is held together convincingly by a liberal but considerate arrangement. “Carpathia” and “The Snake That Swallowed the Elephant“ also twist and turn with the shifty modal mixture that characterizes psychedelic rock, their subtly defiant chord patterns navigated with ease and glossed over by the record’s glittering exterior.
Despite their noteworthy similarity to bands like The Zombies and the weirder half of the Beatles repertoire, Tele Novella doesn’t deserve to be pegged as retro. In addition to its polished aesthetic of aforementioned vibrancy, House of Souls caters to modern pop sensibilities, often taking sugar-saturated hooks to their logical extreme with commendable shamelessness. “Tesseract” and “Waiting on an Answer” bear striking resemblance to the vogue Brooklyn pop group Rubblebucket. In addition to Tele Novella’s female vocal lead, humanized in her willingness to wax theatrical and accept minor imperfections in the process, the band borrows Rubblebucket’s winning formula of upper register melodic leaps driven by a prominent feel-good bassline.
To be sure, House of Souls harbors an eerie streak, lending humor and maturity to the already musically compelling mix. “Dead Canary” and “Even Steven” contain fits of spooky, atonal whispering, a la Rocky Horror, and occasional lapses into the harmonic territory of a bad trip that bridge the ostensibly polarized emotional landscape. In fact, the curious juxtaposition of candy-like melodies with this nocturnal content lends a refreshing diversity of mood to the release (in contrast to the calculated, uniform aesthetics that dominate much indie music). Tele Novella has carved out a rewarding and ambitiously stylized psychedelic niche. The bright wrapping paper adorning House of Souls’ garners attention, but the complexity of the music blossoms further when the listener ultimately moves past it.