The Bils are Bil and Michelle Bilson, a husband-wife duo that play laid back rock schooled by classic duets. Depending which paragraph of their press sheet you’re reading, they are either named “The Bils” or “The Bil’s.” For the sake of continuity, I’ll match the album art and call them The Bils.
Bil is a veteran of The Sunnyboys and he and his wife have long enjoyed music together, though it took a long time to release an actual record, which is why they gave it a tongue-in-cheek title of Past Masters: Volume 1. It’s also a nod to The Beatles, and that reference gives a clue to the era that The Bils take influence from.
The record is calm and tonal, drawing inspiration from the ethereal pop of yesterday and building songs off the interplay between Bil’s baritone voice and Michelle’s sultry, somewhat countrified match. The duet angle works best when they adopt darker, somber emotions as in “Deep in Blue” or “Summer Nights” with touching harmonies that explore the inner search for meaning, though they spend at least as much energy working on country-fueled ballads of relationships. Those have less impact, as stories of seduction like “Your Man” feel a little flat lyrically.
Those two styles comprise about two-thirds of the record with the rest pulling from ‘60s pop with minimal guitar and big harmony. “Halo” is a reflective pop jam with a classic Sullivan Show-era bridge and others have a beckoning, looming vibe of The Doors. I also got shades of Johnny Cash and Pink Floyd at other times.
I picked up this record specifically because I respect the angle they’re going for in old school duets and I wanted to get a little outside of my wheelhouse. For the most part Past Masters succeeds at what it’s trying to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t jump out with much depth beyond the vocal interplay. The songs are adequate but they’re lacking in that flourish or nuance that separates a release from the pack.
Past Masters will have some appeal to fans of somber tunes with some big, bright harmonies to fend off the clouds—fans of country ballads, pre-guitar-solo rock and 1960s pop. Personally, I’m just not feeling it.
6.5 / 10
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