Dallas, Texas four-piece Abbreviations’ new full-length album release ABBV features ten of the most individual tracks I’ve heard in recent memory. The band’s rock arrangements and musicianship boast obvious influences, yes, but Ashley Leer’s lyrics and subject matter stake out their own territory. It isn’t that’s she’s writing about controversial matters. News of her father’s diagnosis with ALS and resulting death sentence spurred Leer to reflect on her regrets and assorted twists and turns she navigated in her own life.
It’s ten rock songs, make no mistake about that. Abbreviations, however, weaves pop strands into these songs as well. It widens the accessibility of the band’s material without ever compromising its authenticity. These are not calculated songs. They are vulnerable tracks that take chances rather than expressing time-tested sentiments in time-tested ways.
Many fans will be attracted to the band’s poetic lyrics. Leer has an affinity for well-chosen images and the album’s first track “Tower” reflects her talent for embodying emotion with significant details. Abbreviations inexplicably dilute the vocal’s impact, however, adding post-production effects. Leer’s voice should have the same immediacy as the arrangement rather than sounding a step removed in the mix. It’s an energetic riffer opening the album on an up-tempo note with several other merits but doesn’t quite live up to its potential.
The light echo on her voice doesn’t impact the second song as much. Varying dynamics of light and shadow fuel “Leavin’” though I believe the former carries the bulk of the song. I’m quite taken with the structure here. Alternating between spartan verses stripped down to their musical essentials and heavy guitar-centric passages give the song a dramatic wallop. Slight reverb applied to the guitar during “Turn on You” gives the song an understated ominous mood that’s appropriate given its subject matter. Abbreviations deserve credit for their ability to sound fully at home with very different musical textures; they suggest the distance between crushing guitar riffs and skewed folk-rock with jangling chords isn’t as far as we think.
Many guitar fans will love how the production captures seemingly meaningless sounds like fingers sliding across guitar strings at the beginning of “Friend of Friends”. I think it adds true rock ‘n’ roll ambiance. The deceptively rudimentary guitar playing is the album’s musical engine; it isn’t intricate runs or chord changes that grabs my attention here. It’s how it skillfully executes several tempo changes without a misstep. “All in All” is one of the thoroughly solid high points of the release. You can’t question the presence of a strong New Wave/alternative influence in the band’s music and it isn’t to their detriment.
It’s one of Leer’s better vocals, as well. The disproportionate amount of male front men throughout rock history still helps bands with female vocalists stand out from the pack. It is a gimmick for some outfits. Abbreviations, however, have a vocalist capable of working well within an established style. Her distanced drone often strikes an interesting contrast with the music yet punctuates her singing with moments of pure emotion.
“Wonder” closes the album on a self-conscious note. The steady escalation of the track from its low-key opening into a full-throttle wall of guitar feels forced even if it is nonetheless successful. Abbreviations loses none of their capacity for memorable dramatics and there’s no other song as suited for this role. The gestation for the album’s songwriting may have taken some time, but Abbreviations’ ABBV is well worth the wait.
by Jennifer Munoz