Austin quintet Sasha and the Valentines have the kind of name that immediately provokes a few preconceived notions about who they are and what they sound like. It resembles the name of a Motown group, and there are certainly echoes of that indestructible pop sensibility to be found on debut album So You Think You Found Love?, but they’d be more comfortably categorised as dreampop or indie pop. You might also assume that the lead singer is called Sasha, but in fact she’s Sarah Addi, and the titular ‘Sasha’ is just a vessel through which the band can explore various guises and storytelling adventures. Finally, the ‘Valentines’ is key: this is a band that toils in matters of the heart, and the fact that it’s plural Valentines tells you that there’s plenty of unsuccessful attractions being explored; on So You Think You Found Love? we’re treated to couples and admirers, obsessions and rejections, commitments and cutting free.
These ingredients are classic and simple, and are all the Sasha and the Valentines need in order to bake up an undeniably winning dreampop dessert on their debut album, which is iced by Addi’s vivid tales. Just looking down the tracklist of So You Think You Found Love? tells you that you’re in for a set of nervous, lovelorn and heartbroken odes, but the band have a tasteful sensibility and a singer who has a lot more depth, vocally and lyrically, than your usual loved-up daydreamer.
The staccato organ and caressing guitar that open the album on “Witches” set the scene of the record perfectly; this is a theatrical, slightly campy romp. Addi’s tender vocal drapes itself across these tones, bringing more melodrama but also a grounding pathos to it all – even though we’re never entirely sure where her heart lies and what her actual motives are. On the following “Angel” she acts the part of the heavenly being, but once again her chaotic streak shows through in lines like “I’ll burst through your whole world / And you’re gonna try hard, only to lose yourself.” Her unpredictable flipping from head-over-heels to cool-as-ice is a major factor in the album’s addictiveness.
Addi remains the focal point throughout the album, as it’s her voice and words that forge a connection with the audience, making us feel like we’ve lived all these lives with her – but we shouldn’t discredit the rest of the band, who have plenty to do with making these songs visceral delights. A clearly talented group, they shift through modes without losing a core sound, supporting their singer without overshadowing her. In fact, separating the band and singer does Sasha and the Valentines a disservice, as they work so mesmerically as a whole, resulting in an album that is wall to wall highlights.
Often, Addi plays a devilish role, but placed in the centre of Sasha and the Valentines’ romantic vortex, it’s impossible to pull away. This is no better exemplified than on “Flower”, where they give a magnetic swoon to her coquettish affirmation “I love you better than she can.” As callous as the kiss-off “Cry All The Time” could come across, with Addi chastising an ex for their inability to get over their feelings, they give it plenty of lift and lightness, turning it into triumphant sunshine pop. On the following “Don’t You Love Me” they employ driving bass and glassy synths, resulting in something like their version of Chromatics song, perfect for the singer’s stark self-reflections; “I get those crazy eyes / Cause ending up alone has got me terrified.” Shades of jangle pop add to the luminous feeling of “Some Time”, where Addi’s crystalline harmonies bring rays of unfettered hope even as she admits “So you try your best / But you’ll probably hurt him again.”
The album’s sole ballad, “Tinder”, might be their defining moment, as soothing synths, atmospheric guitar and tight drumming provide a low-lit mood where Addi chides “so you think you found love?” While it seems teasing on paper, she delivers it with a tenderness that suggests she’s been there too, and she gets it – but she’s never going to give up on love. As newly lovestruck fans, we hope they keep chasing that ideal romance, and return to tell us all about it.