Pebaluna came by the strong recommendation of Good Old War. One site described their sound as like She and Him but I heartily disagree. The lead vocal is a bit like Zoey Deschanel, but the rest of the sound has a sophistication that goes beyond Zoey and M Ward. Instead, I’d prefer that we think of Pebaluna as a distinct sound that is like wicker furniture… seems a bit strange at first, but once you settle in it’s surprisingly comfortable.
Ok now that my unintentional insult to this fantastic art is over, let me attempt to salvage this review with a few more comparisons. The songs are a wonderful variety of what is at times lazy pop and other times chill rock. I’m not sure that there’s a genre for Pebaluna and that’s frankly part of what I like about their sound. They are certainly the kind of band a listener can relax to. The album title Carny Life seems appropriate to account for the seeming variety show of songs.
“Sister Sara” is a sweet, balanced song that is mesmerizing in its simple rhythm. The keys underneath and the stunning vocals over top make for an intoxicating song. It’s rhythmic, sweet, and reminds me of what, at least in my imagination, the mythic Sirens must have sounded like. Just… too much to turn away. Must… hear… more. (And they, interestingly, have a song later on the album titled “Siren Song,” but I think “Sister Sara” does the trick as well.)
Then, the following song, “Carny Life,” the title track sounds like it could be the B-Side to an Emmylou Harris album. It’s got a definitively sweet quirkiness to it. “So we went up to Santa Cruz to live the carny life…” complete with whistling and an appropriate amount of whimsy. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to crawl on stage with the band, do a few shots with them, and sing along. One of the best things about the song is that it’s about a stilted love life, a ne’er-do-well uncommitted man… so the song is the response of the upset but cheery young lady. She knows it won’t work out but she’s singing a happy song about it.
“Baby What’s Wrong” has southern gospel written all over it. The duet harmonies and bright acoustic background makes it an immediate candidate for song of the year (for me). I’d LOVE to hear a whole album like this. “Baby what’s wrong… and tell me when did things change? Sometimes I need ya. Sometimes I just need to get away.” What a powerful lyric… relatable to most humans… and sung with the blending of angels. Seriously it’s an amazing song and frankly worth the purchase of the album.
The hard driving “Hopeless” brings a completely different angle to the album. It’s upbeat with a fuller vintage rock sound. It would have made the sound waves happy in the late 60s, complete with a horn section. Contrasted with some of the other songs on the album, it shows a real diversity within the group. Oh… and the organ… nice touch. The similarly upbeat “Please Me” keeps the crowd jumping for another track.
The concluding “Sunshine Lullabye” brings things together in a sweet outro. It’s the kind of song that makes your toes curl. It, again, highlights the versatility of the group. Not that they need any of my creative thinking to help with this amazing artistry, but I’d like to suggest a double LP release with one set of softer stuff (which I adore throughout the album) and another set of upbeat party jams (which are also pretty good). In any event, Carny Life is a wonderful collection of songs. The strength of vocals and variety of styles will keep this album spinning for many, many happy listeners.