The future serves as the unspoken thread on Dark Holler Pop, the second album from young Chapel Hill trio Mipso. The band's principals, after all, are on the cusp of giving music a full-time turn, hoping to take their fresh-faced, three-piece roots on the road and into a career. Whether it's the hopeful but likely doomed romantic reunion suggested in "Red Eye to Raleigh" or the mortality realization of "When I'm Gone," that sense of looking forward populates most every setting and scene in Dark Holler Pop. Lovers hit the road searching for new starts, country protagonists fantasize about city adventures, and innocent narrators dip into Mexico for trysts and tequila.
That quality plays both ways during Dark Holler Pop: It's a genteel, genuinely likable roots-pop album, with bright hooks and lucid ornamentation. Mipso does very little to push past a mid-tempo trot during these 11 tracks, avoiding the call of restlessness to sit within the comfortable pocket of rather cosmopolitan and contemporary bluegrass. They're sentimental kids who sing sweetly, as capable of charming with the gentle death lament of "Rocking Chair Blues" as they are the delightfully salacious jaunt of "Squirrels."
But it's hard not to want a little agitation in these 40 wistful minutes, or to wish that these songs have been lived-in and felt just a bit more. On Dark Holler Pop, Mipso sounds like the sort of polite band who might stand in your corner to play your cocktail party, then ask the forgiveness of the hosts for all the racket they've made. They could stand to cut loose at least once an hour.
That doesn't preclude these songs from being very good, with clever turns of phrase and unlikely references worked into forms that are familiar and fitting. During the delightful "Louise," though, the trio sings of a hapless couple with a deep, abiding love but little else. "Everything about it takes a little luck," they philosophize in the chorus. And so it goes for Mipso, too, another roots group with the poise and skill to find the success they seek, so long as a little luck comes their way.
Label: Robust Records
This article appeared in print with the headline "Ambition and effect."