Musicians often speak of surrendering themselves to the music they create. On The Heat, local indie folk/Americana duo Renshaw Davies take this sentiment further than most. Succumbing to external forces is a theme that runs throughout the record, be they weather, exhaustion or unrequited love, as on the synth/folk pop standout “If I Can’t Have You.” Throughout the six-song EP, that force is often the biblical heat of New Orleans summers, whether on the reserved, solo acoustic title track (“It’s the heat that makes me crazy” says a narrator conceding all agency to the elements) and opener “Summertime,” where vocalist/keyboardist Emily Davies sings, “A hundred degrees and you’re on your knees in the pouring rain/ What will be comes a melody that will slip away” before she and singer/guitarist John Renshaw resign that “Now it’s gone/ There’s something wrong/ Sometimes it’s nice to close your eyes in the summertime.”
“Summertime” best showcases the EP’s greatest musical strength: the marriage of Americana ballads with new wave/synthpop production. The opening track sets the EP’s tone by finding gloomy, wistful common ground between the disparate genres, blending mournful lap steel guitar with ominous Joy Division synths. In a Gambit interview accompanying the record release, Renshaw said that the record’s synthetic textures began as a means to remedy his struggles to play to a metronome. Producer Carson Thielen of Bear America Records used an electronic drumbeat as a temporary timekeeper, and the result sparked a new direction. The happy accident found Renshaw Davies succumbing yet again, this time to a good musical idea.
None of this is to suggest that Renshaw Davies lack a sense of self. The essence of their sound—flawless harmonies, melancholic melodies, and an intuitive feel for using space—are The Heat’s backbone. The group’s trademark hushed voices over delicate acoustic plucking comprise two of the EP’s six songs, which is a bit of overkill despite each song being haunting in its own right. Rather, Renshaw Davies address identity as an open-ended question that may never have a definitive answer. That may sound distressing, but as The Heat shows, losing oneself can lead to finding something pretty interesting.