Small Sips - The Morning Ripples

At its core, ‘The Morning Ripples' is fairly simple stuff - strummed acoustic guitars, spare drumming and semi-whispered vocals about lost love and faded dreams. This isn't, however, alt-country by numbers. Small Sips augment their sonic base with intelligent instrumentation and sympathetic arrangements. Vital contributions from Campbell Shaw (Violins) and Nicole Hurtubise (Accordion), among others, add richness to Small Sips' palette.


This model is played out within the first minute of album opener ‘Abney Park'. Gently strummed acoustic guitar is joined by some suitably lilting pedal steel and a somewhat rusty vocal - we are deep into alt-country homeland here. But as the chorus kicks in, piano, strings and vocal harmonies are layered into the mix to elevate the song above the mundane.


The remainder of ‘The Morning Ripple' continues along similar lines. Overall, the arrangement and production of the songs is sparse and delicate. The album is filled with a sense of openness. Whilst there is a menagerie of instruments being put to use each is given enough space in the mix to retain its clarity. Only ‘All Your Rages' suffers on this front – the layers of soaring strings that join the chorus, threaten to smother Kevin Smith's Belle and Sebastian-esque vocals entirely. As a result one of the most interesting vocal melodies on the album is almost inaudible.


Much of the album is pretty standard alt-country (or at least indie-pop with a country bend) to varying degrees of success. ‘White Skies' and ‘Uprising' lack a standout vocal hook and fall flat as a result. On the other hand, ‘Disintegration' and ‘Sliding Door' are simple, well executed and emotive. Small Sips also infuse much of the album with other influences. This genre splicing plays out most successfully on the Simon and Garfunkle meets El Mariachi stylings of ‘Stormers' – its chorus-less structure and fragile production creates one of the album's high points. A stark flamenco guitar is mixed with multi-tracked vocals to form the basis for the song, while a stabbing, crisp violin completes the package to great effect. Elsewhere, the jaunty ‘Leaders of Some' moves into twee pop territory and ‘You Were Right' unfolds from a delicate indie-pop ditty into a sprawling, delicate, multi-instrumented, post-rock symphony. The latter closes the album on an epic note – turning away from the intensity and introspection of much of the album to stroll off into a metaphorical sunset.


Small Sips is a studio collaboration between Kevin Smith (Sodastream), Matthew Aulich and Matthew Bailey (both formally of Paradise Motel). Collaborations and side projects are often chances for artists to experiment with, or depart from, the familiar territory of their day jobs. Small Sips aren't trying to reinvent any wheels here, but they have included just enough freshness in ‘The Morning Ripples' to make it worth a listen.

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