“Being so Normal” is the debut album of Canadian indie band Peach Pit. The band’s self-ascribed, “chewed bubblegum pop” sound appears on “Being so Normal” in the chill vocals and bright and prominent guitar.
The album opens with “Drop the Guillotine” – a song with a long history for such a young band. Since its first release in 2016 on the band’s debut EP “Sweet FA,” the song has been significantly altered. On “Sweet FA,” “Drop the Guillotine” had a stripped back, piano dominated sound. In the time between the EP and album releases, Peach Pit released live performances of several songs including “Drop the Guillotine.” This live version resembles more closely the version on “Being so Normal,” the main difference arising from the sleeker sound on the studio recording. Both the live and “Being so Normal” studio versions of “Drop the Guillotine” center around the guitar parts rather than piano. Notably lacking in the original version is the guitar riff which characterizes the song’s sound and is the key feature that pushes it to be energetic and interesting. Altering the entire atmosphere of the song is its pacing. The “Sweet FA” release is a slow jam – so slow that it feels unnatural – whereas the updated version has an electrically charged nature. This energy difference significantly differentiates the EP and the album. Where the EP consists of four mellow songs that are at most moderate speed, the album investigates faster tempos. Although more simplistic instrumentally, the original version of “Drop the Guillotine” has more expansive vocals. The vocals of lead singer Neil Smith on the album version are without flourishes and the backing vocals are barely present; slightly distorted and heavily layered vocals ran through the EP version.
A uniting feature on the album is Smith’s breathy vocals which maintain a limited range. The lyrics in Peach Pit songs typically have a story telling quality, but a monotony of sound brought on by Smith’s small range sometimes undermines their intrigue. The songs thus rely heavily on the instruments for dynamism. Title track “Being so Normal” is a reflection on a relationship that’s no longer what it once was. “Sometimes I can still see you, just like I used to. But I grew my hair, and you got tattoos. And man that’s hard to look through,” Smith sings. The physical changes reflect how they and their relationship have also shifted, but sometimes he can see her “just like [he] used to.” The song’s interest lies heavily in the dimmed guitar riff. The instrument sounds as though it’s being played in a different room, and in that way parallels the lyrics’ story of being at a party. In one “room” Smith is singing about a party he went to with a past girlfriend, and in the other “room” the party he’s singing about is occurring.
Peach Pit also released a live version of “Alrighty Aphrodite” over a year prior to its studio release on the album, allowing it to first gain traction on YouTube. The sound of the studio version is largely unchanged from the live version. The laid back verses and chorus are contrasted by the sharp guitar in the latter half of the song. The song is bookended at the beginning and end with a jam section. The opening instrumentals are led by the rhythm section with the bass placed in a forward position and the sharp clicking on the drum kit marking time. Although the track is mellow, it remains anticipatory due to full band rests. After the first line of each verse all instruments stop, adding a moment of silence and tension to the song. “Take a seat back in your clamshell,” Smith sings and then the music halts for a moment like its holding its breath before it again pushes forward. The stop and go occurs again after the line “Run your morning bath in seafoam,” which refocuses the listener’s attention.
The last two songs, “Private Presley” and “Tommy’s Party,” distinguish themselves from others on the album in that they develop different atmospheres. “Private Presley” leans away from rock influences into a more folk inspired sound. The slow song adds classical strings, softening it so that the screeching, distorted guitar in the outro contrasts severely. “Tommy’s Party” highlights Smith’s vocals. The vocals are louder than all the other instruments and the backing vocals which swell behind the lead line give the song dimension. It echoes “Alrighty Aphrodite” in its use of rests which halt and then push along the bouncing rhythm.
Peach Pit’s debut album “Being so Normal” establishes the chewed bubblegum pop sound that its EP first suggests. Smith’s vocals give the album a hazy, washed out vibe. Unfortunately, their monotony allows them to sink backwards thus detracting from the impact of the lyrics. However, the album finds strength in its instrumental variability. The album is dominated sonically by electric guitar which sets up the sound of each song, but the bass and drums hold their own – distinguishing songs that would otherwise melt together.