From the Five Stairsteps to the Jackson 5, the Andrews Sisters to Haim, the Osborne Brothers to the Brothers Osborne, American pop history is rife with sibling groups whose close harmony channeled both genetic advantage and built-in backstory. After years of woodshedding in a once artist-friendly town — New York City — Bailen joins their ranks. Twin brothers (Daniel and David) and a younger sister (Julia) raised by music professors, they play to their strong suits on their debut. The first track, “Something Tells Me,” finds them raising their voices in unison from the get-go, cooing a wordless melody, then singing about their mom and their given names, before pivoting into a song about romantic love, and the tentative process of opening up to it. Yet there’s nothing whatsoever tentative about their delivery — one imagines them wowing living-room crowds at family functions long before this, nailing “Our House” harmonies in Upper West Side apartments.
This sort of confidence is everywhere on Thrilled To Be Here, an LP steeped in classic rock and 20th century references: it’s impossible not to hear echoes of CS&N and Fleetwood Mac in their gloriously yelled harmonies, with strains of TLC and Destiny’s Child. The vocal interplay feels laser-guided, ditto the production and arrangements. The power chords crashing in on the chorus of “Stand Me Up,” with its latter-day Beatles filigree, are an irony-free trope deployed so expertly it’s almost comic, and no less pleasurable for it. The songs are sculpted in an almost modular way, full of impressive elements — the chorus of “Not Gonna Take Me” with its faint echo of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (That Loves Me);” the delicate vocal architecture, full of Simon and Garfunkel touches, on “Eyelashes.”
These handsome elements don’t always add up to memorable wholes, and the precision can sometimes make things feel bloodless. Frequently, its Julia’s vocals that offset this — check her parched confession slotted in between the portentous prog-rock arpeggios and digital wind-on-the-moors flourishes of “I Was Wrong,” or her r&b moves on “Stray Dog,” more potent for the fact that she’s not a conventional powerhouse singer. The impact of her voice comes from the impression of struggle: to hit notes, and by extension, to wrestle down emotions. The supporting harmonies and precise arrangements would carry metaphoric heft coming from any accompanists; coming from her older brothers deepens the narrative still further. It’s a reminder that the most affecting moments by groups like CS&N, Fleetwood Mac, and The Band generally show individual voices distinguishing themselves within the power of the collective. Bands that tap those traditions — numerous these days — should keep that algebra in mind. Otherwise, Bailen have their thing pretty well figured out, and it’s plenty impressive.