With a catchy and captivating take on electro-pop and enough smarts to marry buzzy hooks with a kitschy/glam style, Kristin Dennis turned her Née project into a must-watch act on the rise. Her first EP, The Hands of Thieves, presented a gridwork of synths and drum-machine patterns, but Dennis was smart enough to expand on this promising but limited start. Now a foursome with greater emphasis on acoustic percussion and electric guitar, Dennis and her new, fleshed-out band sound bigger, better and darker on the Finches EP. Synthesizers still coat and color every surface here, but the range of sounds has broadened, from the ominous, swooping buzz that kicks off "Spiders" to the high-frequency cut-off squelch that closes "Heavy Boats." David Beeman (Old Lights) and Lex Herbert help fill out the keyboard parts, none of which sounds like it was sculpted much past 1982. Mic Boshans (Humdrum, Union Electric) still mans the electric drum kit, though he's not confined to metronomic beats — if nothing else, this EP shows how crucial compelling, layered rhythms can be to this beefed-up version of the band.
The five-song EP is available now digitally and soon on vinyl, though the opening track "Pretty Girls" has bounced in and out of eardrums for a while, thanks in part to a choreographed, glitter-bombed video. (Few bands in town are as careful and effective at presenting a representative image as this one.) The song's jilted tone and airy melody provide a nice tension between presentation and effect; it's also proof that Dennis has internalized a few decades' worth of pop and R&B radio hits and can dial up one of her own when she wants to. "Pretty Girls" is the EP's ear candy, but Dennis has something a bit more sinister and apocalyptic in mind elsewhere on the program. The title track seeks to unsettle with Biblical allusions and tales of nature revolting against itself, and Dennis' Auto-Tuned vocals mimic the fearful metamorphosis. "Search Parties" may be the disc's biggest revelation, with Beeman's Afro-pop guitar licks and the modest polyrhythms adding color and depth to what can occasionally be a blinding vision of neon. For the first time, Née sounds like more than the sum of its parts. —Christian Schaeffer