The Atlanta, Georgia five-piece Tea Leaves have spent several years breaking their collective backs for the music industry, only to have little given to them in return. Now with a solid, steady line-up, the group have released a self-titled debut on the Republik Rekords label, and seem poised to move on to bigger and better things. Playing soft, expansive pop rock with some spacey, melodic guitar work at times, Tea Leaves is generally pretty soft and fluffy as far as rock music goes.
After a few spins, I'd say this album is a mixed-bag. It has several very strong tracks, but a few of the other songs are a tad weak or even out-of-place and bring the overall value of the album down a little. That isn't to say Tea Leaves is awful music-wise or anything; in fact, the opposite would be true. Twin guitarists Mike Gill and Ray Stamps have mastered the art of simple, fitting, and catchy melody, while singer Charles Nelson has a strong, crystal-clear voice. Rounded out by a very competent rhythm section in bassist David Ridarick and drummer Larry Tate, the band definitely exude confidence and cohesion. It's just some of their songs could use some more spice, or at least in my opinion.
The opener "Over the Line" is in my opinion a risky start to an album. The song is soft, serene, and fairly vanilla pop rock. It comes across as a gummy ballad, and really doesn't excite this particular listener too much, which puts the album off to a stumbling start. "Sensitive" is hooky, mid-tempo rock with sugary choruses and a decent guitar solo that is thick on the catchiness quotient. It's better than "Over the Line," but I still wouldn't call it a fantastic song. I guess that's why "Lost in You" excited me so much. A spacey shoegazing jam that exudes equal portions 80's pop rock and quiet 90's introversion. The floating rocker "Hypnopower" is every bit as trance-inducing as its name implies, and the second truly strong song.
"Way" is soaring pop rock that unfortunately wore on my nerves every spin I gave it. "Won't Ever Do" is hypnotic strumming and crooning that vaguely (and I mean very vaguely) recalls recent softer-side Incubus. "Universe" is mildly Southern rock, the kind that is pretty strong driving music on a sunny day. "Call It Off" is paint-by-numbers soft rock, and follow-up "Faith" is hardly any more interesting, almost the second nail in the coffin. "News" is one of those "thank God" type moments on a CD.
Slightly heavier than the previous material, and a whole lot more sonic with its wavering notes spiraling around, "News" is a great song. As if I couldn't get any better, a fantastic guitar solo is snuck in there capping the song off with a bang. "Yes It's You" is a somewhat anti-climatic follow-up of tasteless pop rock, but decent when all is said and done.
"Lost" is a middle-of-the road spacey ballad, paired with the equally banal "Mrs. Parker." "It's Over" is a gloomy shuffle into the sunset, a satisfying if quiet way to end the album. Ultimately, this debut doesn't go very far; there simply isn't enough fuel in the tank. On the one hand, some of the songs like "News" or "Lost in You" are fairly decent numbers. On the other hand, the disc itself is mired in almost wholly complete blandness. The songs often run together in a mush of slow-tempo, vaguely indie soft rock jams. Even the strongest tracks are harmed by this uniformity, simply being strong for the fact they're played much better within the style, but never actually venturing beyond it. If there was one word I could pick to describe this album, it would be "tepid." Just like warm water, the music here is too comfortable with itself for its own good. Here's hoping Tea Leaves adds some caffeine next time and take a few insane risks.
1. Over the Line
3. Lost in You
6. Won't Ever Do
8. Call It Off
11. Yes It's You
13. Mrs. Parker
14. It's Over