Read any two, five, or ten descriptions of Quilt, and the word "psychedelic" crops up in the first sentence. Rightly so. Listening to Quilt can dredge the most cliché tropes of psych-rock freakouts. But Quilt seem to do something with their psychedelia that few contemporary takes on the 60s do. They get it right.
What makes psychedelia work? Soundscapes and open vocal harmonies. Melodies that linger, but twist just enough to hint exoticism. Rich stringscapes bending to unseen visual cues. The familiar made unfamiliar.
"Hissing My Plea" from Quilt's most recent release, Plaza, bespeaks those details, and leaves no touch untouched. Funk traces in the harmony, richly dissonant guitars, and thunk-plucked bass — evoking a more recent vintage of Of Montreal — toss back to a summer of love sound, where blue-eyed soul met Haight-Ashbury. Anna Fox Rochinski leads the Boston-born, Brooklyn-based quintet through a form that never quite lands on a verse and never quite lands on a chorus, but never quite loses the listener either. The band glides from from section to section over fits and starts, in a stream of consciousness that obscures a plan. Like much of Quilt's music, simplicity shrouds complexity, and ease hides intensity.
Rochinski parachutes into an instrumentally colorful atmosphere with a voice that is breathy, but not breathless, and counters the thumping rhythm section, tinted by Shane Butler's sandpaper guitar. The effect is entrancing and light, with a depth that reflects when curious and romantic strings double Rochinski's voice in a second verse. The strings are a centerpiece. In an instant, they turn from slick glides à la Gamble and Huff, to open parallelism à la "Blue Jay Way." When the song swings on a late bridge, the strings take one more turn to eerie harmonics riding over Rochinski's sweetly homphonic berceuse.
Rendering the familiar unfamiliar can be dicey, making for an uneasy listener. So Quilt treats their listeners gently, but not preciously. On "Hissing My Plea," that gentleness is the best counter to riding funkiness just a layer below cradle-rocking vocals.