Ida is a product of indie rock's age of enlightenment — a period in the early '90s when abrasive, cage-rattling alt-rock was the norm, and hence the most punk-rock thing you could do was gather some Berklee College of Music dropouts, make sure you had a violin or cello, and harmonize sweetly with your spouse. Since forming in Brooklyn in 1992, Ida — whose core consists of husband-wife singer/songwriters Dan Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell, along with bassist/vocalist Karla Schickele — has seen its quiet, chamber-folk peers and collaborators get loud (Low), go avant-garde (Rachel's) or cease to exist (Retsin).
Ida, meanwhile, has been rock-steady (if not exactly rocking) in its sound and vision, even as the band hopped from label to label and its members indulged in various side projects. Schickele has released solo recordings under the moniker k., while Mitchell and Littleton have made a series of children's-music albums under Mitchell's name. In 2007, Mitchell teamed up with former college roommate Lisa Loeb (whose 1994 yuppie-pop hit “Stay (I Missed You)” featured Ida as backing musicians) for Catch the Moon, a kids'album whose unlikely producer was Warren Defever of the once-gothy avant-rock outfit His Name Is Alive.
So it's no surprise that Lovers Prayers, Ida's seventh studio album, is infused with a Sunday-morning serenity; the wholesome vocal harmonies of Mitchell and Littleton are warm milk to a crying child and blessed relief to hectic grown-up life. While the music isn't exactly minimal, it is tastefully restrained, with guitar and piano occasionally buttressed by subtly beeping electronics or brushed drums that sound like a straw broom sweeping across a floor. There are definite and encouraging signs, however, that Ida doesn't want to be your modern-day Peter, Paul & Mary, nor does it exist to soothe your battered psyche. For all its unassuming pleasantness and romantic pallor, Lovers Prayers (also produced by Defever) isn't an album extolling the virtues of faith and devotion. “I wish I was a fool for you again,” Mitchell and Littleton commiserate on “For Shame of Doing Wrong,” one of many songs fretting over imperfect relationships and memories of better times.
Yet the music here remains stubbornly angst-free. “See the Stars” is a gorgeous waltz that tails away with touches of violin and pedal-steel guitar, while “The Killers, 1964″ is a cryptic narrative stroll through the plot of the Angie Dickinson/Lee Marvin film alluded to in the song title. It's doubtful that Ida has set out, once again, to be contrarian with its music, but anyone looking for respite from the manufactured eccentricity of the creatively spent freak-folk movement should reconnect with these quiet Americans.