Behind the soaring beauty and lush melodies of Seattle dream-pop band Lemolo, there hides a certain menace. On the first track off the band’s debut, The Kaleidoscope, front woman Meagan Grandall’s airy, multi-tracked voice asked us, “Don’t you know it’s all for fun?” But something hiding in the reverb seemed to hint that there was more at stake. Mid-way through the song, when a heavier guitar and bigger drums settled in, we got a peak at the possible heaviness Lemolo was capable of.
On their second album, Red Right Return, the threat is still there, but Grandall keeps it, frustratingly, largely in check. In interviews, Grandall said she was trying to push her sound toward additional layers and depth. It’s a classic direction for a second album to take, and it works here just as often as it doesn’t. It’s true that The Kaleidoscope is a somewhat spartan affair, but that spare sound often worked to the band’s advantage, allowing breathing room for the dreamier side of pop to enter. Red Right Return is indeed a fuller album. Besides Grandall’s additional layering and texturing, Emily Westerman, a more experienced drummer, has replaced Kendra Cox on drums. Consequently, there are real drum parts on the new album. Westerman’s jauntily subdued drums work nicely on opener “One To Love,” and it’s hard to imagine stand-out track “Runner” without her percussive crescendo, but on some tracks, like “Movers and Shakers,” they feel a little jarring and too busy.
Grandall has mostly abandoned the wistfully longing lyrics of The Kaleidoscope in favor of darker material. A lot of these songs focus on the need to seize this moment in her career, and many of them bring up the specter of forces, real or imagined, who might be trying to hold her back. “All my dreaming you were ready to fight,” she sings on “Running.”
It’s strange then, given the more serious nature of many of these songs, that the album never quite reaches the searing potential that Grandall has always been pointing toward. It’s tempting to give her a “dream-pop” pass, to allow the cloistered menace to stay hidden, but it’s too clear something stronger is hiding in the wings. If the The Kaleidoscope was notable for its spare, beautiful sound, then Red Right Return might be remembered as its more robust older sibling. But it feels like the perfect Lemolo record might lie somewhere in between the two. Only time will tell. But, as Grandall sings on “Fuel,” “Time’s my friend/my enemy.”