It’s been a minute since we’ve heard anything from The Courtneys. The mid-2010s lo-fi surf rock band dropped two very good LPs, with a decent-sized gap between to make room for various side projects. One of those side projects is Gum Country, the latest iteration from Courtney Garvin (aka Courtney Loove), which moves her from her Courtneys duties of backing vocals and fuzzy riffage to the helm; she’s front and center, providing hazy guitars paired with dreamy vocals.
Although Gum Country strays from the kiwi-pop tendencies of The Courtneys, and the songwriting seems to be a tad more direct and traditionally structured, separating the two bands might seem difficult. Somewhere is definitely more of straightforward rock album than The Courtneys’ output, but it manages to pull off this departure with some of the tightest compositions of Garvin’s career. Take for example the lead single and title track from Somewhere, which also kicks off the album: the warm fuzzy guitars cascade down and hug your spine, while Garvin’s counterpart Connor Mayor noodles away.
Somewhere’s strengths are all contained in the opening track, though. The rest of the album doesn’t depart from this approach, “Tennis (I Feel OK)” being a prime example of the band burying themselves in a niche. There’s some lo-fi production that recalls Yo La Tengo and The Magnetic Fields, the dabbles of twee making their influences all the more obvious. At times, Somewhere even feels like it could have been a Courtneys album, given how simple it is – and it’s kind of surprising that it’s not, as a lot of cuts seem like they’d fit if only given a bit of a tweak. This doesn’t discount Gum Country’s efforts though; Somewhere is still a solid debut in its own right, but it doesn’t feel as distinct as other side projects have been in the past.
Lyrically however, Gum Country does feel like a different beast. Garvin’s not in the background anymore, so her words are coming across with more heart and sincerity. “Haven’t felt this way in a while / I can’t think straight / can’t hide my smile / I guess this is gonna be my life for a while,” she sings on “Somewhere”. This sets the stage for her transitional adventure, as the album was written following a big move to Los Angeles from Vancouver, where she had lived for most of her life. So, Somewhere represents a new chapter in Garvin’s life, one that has inspired her to taking the reins of her own project.
Unfortunately, there are so many acts both past and present who sound exactly like this; there are moments scattered throughout Somewhere that feel a little derivative of some 90s alternative acts. So, while Somewhere is a good start, there’s a lot more to accomplish for Gum Country before they can really set themselves apart from The Courtneys – or other bands.