Since releasing The Mirth These Days on Charlotte's MoRisen Records in 2005, Justin Williams—the Queen City expat who fronted MoRisen rockers The Talk while self-recording his dreamy pop nuggets as Twelve Thousand Armies—mostly disappeared. He's recently resurfaced in Carrboro, aligning himself with fellow vintage-pop enthusiasts of the Drughorse collective. North Carolina—the 12-track follow-up to Mirth—benefits from the affiliation. The work of in-house producer Jeff Crawford, for instance, uses sedate orchestral splendor to add a haze to the songs' general estival atmosphere.
Opener "A Swim," for instance, drips with watery organ, Williams singing of taking a dip to escape the South's hundred-degree weather. Tambourine, slide guitar and banged piano chords soundtrack Williams' top-down elation on "Darling Let's Breathe," while Williams leverages a trumpeted melody, glockenspiel accents and Hal Blaine-like stuttering percussion to brighten the album's most immediate track, the sunny and warm "After All We're People."
"Silver Lake in Bloom" is a languid, horn-embellished shuffle, but its chronicles of bittersweet California dreams hint at the shadows behind so much light. Though Williams celebrates the joys of a classic summer—swimming, skating, swigs and swigs of alcohol—he rues the ephemerality of seasonal flings and fleeting friendships. Despite post-breakup self-pity on "With the Leaves," Williams playfully dismisses the dejection caused by his ex's rejection. But this soul-baring half, diametrically opposed to the carefree sing-alongs, shows Williams is more than just a party animal. On closing track "Pardon the Earthquake," Williams even confesses his "happiness is way too fucking fake." We've enjoyed being fooled, at least.