Big Branch Credit: Tina Louise Mead

On their debut album, Cliff, Chicago duo Big Branch combine warm vocal melodies with kitchen-sink instrumentals inspired by the dusty samples of underground rap. The record’s ramshackle sound recalls Beck circa “Loser” or Dubya-era TV on the Radio, a hybrid style the group calls “hop ’n’ roll.” Vocalist Jamal Semaan and guitarist and producer Rob Lorts originally went by the name Grimms & Blacknight, and they wrote the songs on Cliff during a 2016 DIY tour. After coming home to financial hardship and health problems, they revitalized themselves with a new band name and a more guitar-heavy sound. Big Branch recorded Cliff with producer Brian Deck, who also contributes percussion—it shares the foreground with Lorts’s guitar playing, such as the wiry lines that supplement the chorus on “Something Out There.” Semaan’s conversational vocals sound great paired with harmonies from Ohmme’s Macie Stewart, who guests on a couple tracks on vocals and violin—they’re especially good together on lead single “Spit It Out,” where the singers plead for more direct communication even as they prepare to wince at the unfiltered truth. But the front man hasn’t abandoned rap. Midway through “Bubblegum,” Semaan drops into an unexpected rhythmic pocket amid a cacophony of overlapping guitars and cymbals. The song doesn’t employ traditional drum-kit patterns—instead Semaan’s voice provides the rhythmic bedrock, anchoring the layers of instrumentation. It’s a sophisticated gambit that was worth all of the time Big Branch spent in flux.   v