Family of the Year gives its indie-folk approach a more polished pop veneer 

Breaking camp

With the ebullient harmonies, swelling arrangements, and folksy undertones of the group's 2009 debut Songbook, it's not hard to imagine Family of the Year as five nature-struck kids getting their Kumbaya on.

"We're definitely big on the cliché of sitting outdoors by the fire pit, drinking and singing songs," says Sebastian Keefe, who co-founded the band with his brother Joe. "To different degrees we're definitely all nature people. We're still a good 65 percent city slickers and a solid 35 percent outdoorsy."

The Brothers Keefe grew up in Martha's Vineyard and played in bands together, releasing albums as the Billionaires and Unbusted. The latter band landed three songs on the soundtrack to the Farrelly Brothers' 2003 movie Stuck on You.

Five years ago they hopped coasts to Orange County, Calif., where the duo began creating music with Vanessa Long, who was also Joe's girlfriend. Long moved on, as did several other bandmates, leaving the remaining core quartet to rethink their sound.

"We were kind of trying to find our footing and our identity. We began to play more and more live and started to get our sound," says Sebastian during a break from the band's first headlining tour. "The songwriting process hasn't really changed, only the way we presented it. Nothing's been a conscious decision, other than turning down a little bit and going back to the basics."

Along the way, there have been significant breaks. Ben Folds handpicked Family of the Year to open for him at a show featuring the Boston Pops; it was the group's third show ever. More cherry tours followed with Gomez, Edward Sharpe, and Mumford & Sons.

Meanwhile, last year's Loma Vista found the band taking a more unabashedly pop approach on tracks like "St. Croix" and "Living on Love," while still putting the vocals front and center in the mix.

"When Joe and Vanessa wrote Songbook it sounded fresh and really new. But by the time that we were in our 'transitional phase' it seemed like every single band was trying to sound like that. I remember a time period where we realized, holy shit, everyone thinks they're Neil Young. So we kind of went back to our beginnings."

While the brothers had started out playing noisy, '90s-inflected rock, they'd never skimped on hooks. And that's what they return to on the upbeat and über-catchy, Foster the People-style Loma Vista, mothballing their acoustic instruments in favor of jangly guitars and shimmery keyboard-assisted indie pop.

"They were big pop songs, if you ask me, like a lot of the bands that Joe and I have been playing in," says Sebastian. "We've kind of brought it back up again."

The album also boasts twee-pop arrangements and engaging duets between Joe and co-vocalist Christine Schroeter. "She's been a huge force in the songwriting and the overall vibe in the band," says Sebastian. "I can't help but notice there are a whole lot of bro bands out there."



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