If listening to a debut EP is like going on a first date with an artist, Jill and Julia's "Cursed" could be the kind of date where the conversation devolves into a contest to see who can quote the most lines from the same movie. It's fun while it lasts, but there's a haunting feeling that there will be nothing to say the second time out.
The Las Vegas-based sister duo follows up their first single, 2014's "Wildfire," with a seven-track EP that capitalize on their tight harmonies and a skilled band of musicians behind them. But for all their talent and genre-bending of country and alternative rock, they lack variety.
With little variation of which instruments are used and what tempo they're played at, four of the five original songs run together. All songs have a country-rock sound, and apart from waltz-like "Trance" range in the medium-to-fast-tempo range. There's no doubting Jill and Julia's ability to harmonize, but they don't explore everything they could do with it beyond applying it to a type of country genre that doesn't always leave room for vocal complexity.
There's even very little variance within the lyrics. Opener "Sounds" has almost no real words to sing of, relying on "whoa" as the main refrain. "Cursed" is a fitting theme for the huntress by putting power in her hands, interestingly juxtaposed with "Hired Guns," which declares that everyone can hurt and run. "Smoke and Mirrors" is a catchy tune, but stays ambiguous as to what's an illusion: a relationship? A personality? Life in general?
But as repetitive as the style feels when it's being used on their original songs, it's a fresh way to hear the EP's two covers - Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart" and Lorde's "Royals." The tight harmonies and orchestration updates Cyrus' song to make it sound like it might not entirely belong on multiple "Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever" lists. Their cover of "Royals" reinvents the song as a country theme. With their harmony power, they have a chance to improve upon Lorde's original harmonies, but they choose not to. Maybe that's on purpose, to make it more of their own than a sound-alike. But it also smacks of missed opportunity.
That's a perfect way to describe the "Curses" EP - a missed opportunity for an otherwise talented group. Country acts like Zac Brown Band, The Band Perry and Jennifer Nettles have capitalized on being able to make every song sound different, but Jill and Julia are stuck in a rut before they even get on the road with a full album.
But the talent they showcase is worth giving them another chance once their first full album comes out. Only then will listeners be able to judge if, in the artists' own words, "it's just smoke and mirrors."