Prolific indie act Into It. Over It. (otherwise known as IIOI, or singer/multi-instrumentalist Evan Thomas Weiss) has recently released Twelve Towns, a disc which assembles the majority of the songwriter’s contributions to split EPs over the past few years. The thematic link here, obvious from the collection’s tracklist, if not its title, is that each of these songs is named after a city in the United States. Still, compilations of this nature can be problematic. While ideal for fans and completists, culling material from a wide range of sources can produce an unnervingly disjointed or inconsistent result; the song title device alone does not guarantee a solid collection of material (after all, America is a pretty big place).
It’s both fortuitous and, in a way, slightly disappointing how consistent Twelve Towns ends up being. Truth be told, this evenness in sound is not a great shock. Nine of the album’s tracks were recorded in 2009, with the remainder coming together in the early part of 2010. As such, there’s a fluidity to the record, from subdued de facto intro “Nashville, TN” to the vaguely Manchester Orchestra electro-acoustic vibe of closer “Pontiac, MI,” that makes Twelve Towns fit far more naturally into the ebb and flow feel of a traditional album than its nature might suggest.
Between these mellower bookends, there are a few bouts of driving energy that vary up the pace. “Orlando, FL” and Washington, DC” bristle with American Football-esque math rock-lite syncopation and guitar fills. Elsewhere, “Brenham, TX” is an infectious midtempo exercise in pop-punk simplicity done right, “Portland, OR” fuzzily linger on just this side of shoegaze, and “Cambridge, MA” is a two-minute exercise of understated acoustic melody worthy of early-day Iron & Wine (a sound which comes to more fully-realized fruition on “Westmont, NJ,” particularly the glorious yet subtle finger-picking of the bridge).
And yet, for all these different sounds, there’s a readily recognizable thread linking all of the songs, beyond the country conceit. It might be attributed to the upper-middle-register vocals and personal, slice-of-life lyrics from Weiss, which are dynamic in the sense that he can move from mellow, almost murmured admissions to louder, emo-styled pleas. However, the vocals rarely stray from their core; ditto the lyrics, which work much better in some places (the vivid “Westmont, NJ”) than others (the relatable but overwrought “Portland, OR”), but always dwell on similar subjects; and ditto that overall sound, which can adopt the mannerisms of pop-folk and math rock and still be remarkably, sometimes detrimentally constant.
Perhaps if Weiss committed just a little more fully to developing some of the individual songs, Twelve Towns may be even more impressive (the entire record amounts to just a shade over 30 minutes, which is makes for great, digestable listens, but also leaves a few songs a little too underdone for their own good). Those unfamiliar with IIOI would do well to look into the band’s previous collection, 2009’s 52 Weeks, for a more ambitious and, at times, experimental collection of music, which had its fair share of misfires, but outshined them with sheer numbers and boldness. Chalk it up to the comparatively abbreviated runtime, but Twelve Towns comes off feeling like a much “safer” record. Even so, the fact that is feels like a record at all, rather than a series of snippets strung together, is worth something. So, too, is the musicianship, which is well beyond competent, if not as challenging or diverse as it might have been given more breathing room. Ultimately, the pros of this release (subtlety, sincerity) outweigh the cons (sameness, safety—which, in their own strange way, could be seen as pros of a different color and context) and are what make these Twelve Towns definitely worth a visit.
Into It. Over It. comes to The Ottobar in Baltimore on September 23. Twelve Towns is currently available from all major online retailers (including an iTunes-exclusive edition with acoustic versions of five of the album’s songs, which are nice but add little overall to the tracks). The album is offered for $11.99 by national chain Best Buy, or $9.99 from local retailer The Sound Garden in Fells Point.