Category Archives: Twee

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart: Days of Abandon

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The Pains of Being Pure At Heart: Days of Abandon- Sweetness for days, and would you expect any less from an indie pop group whose own name comes from a children’s book? New York’s Pains of Being Pure At Heart have always found themselves at the middle ground between twee and shoegaze influence and unsurprisingly have been turning out likable, earnest records since their 2009 self-titled debut. With their latest effort, Days of Abandon, the band has traded in some of the fuzzy guitar rock that started to emerge on the debut and took centerstage on their sophomore follow-up, Belong, in favor of polished, sunny pop that is inviting, endearing, and sweet to a degree that is cavity-inducing.

‘Art Smock’ acts as our introduction to the album. With the light instrumentation and the tender intonation of Kip Berman’s vocals on this particular track, it almost seemed comparable to something you might hear Bret McKenzie sing in a ballad. It doesn’t seem like that odd of a comparison to make either when you hear lyrics like “I liked you better in your art smock/mocking art rock/without intention, without design/you said you’d never be fine with being fine/or mine.” It’s certainly cute in nature but by no means is it the best song on the effort. Now with the following track, ‘Simple and Sure’, that’s when things are really kicked into gear. Whereas ‘Art Smock’ wistfully gazes out a sun-drenched window, ‘Simple and Sure’ is an invitation to get up and dance with whoever is closest.  It’s a song that manages to capture that wide-eyed energy featured so prominently on the self-titled album. The vocals and melodies are equally happy-go-lucky which is a continued quality throughout the rest of the album that leaves listeners captivated.

‘Kelly’ is another charming addition, with a lovely job done by A Sunny Day in Glasgow‘s Jen Goma, a newly-added member to the lineup after the departure of former keyboardist/vocalist Peggy Wang . Vocals are split up between Goma and Berman throughout Days of Abandon and they compliment one another beautifully. Goma takes the lead on tracks like ‘Kelly’ and ‘Life After Life’ and does so with assurance and grace.

Earlier, in talking about the first track of the record I noted that it was not the strongest track on the album. That title without-a-doubt goes to ‘Eurydice’, one of the singles they released before the album officially dropped. The lively tempo, the perfectly blended instrumentation, the secondary background vocals that fade in and out hauntingly (especially toward the end of the song); everything about it is a recipe for musical bliss. It captures a hopefulness and you can’t help but feel it deep in your chest when the chorus rolls along and you hear the words “I never stop losing you.” Another standout on the album is the track that immediately follows, ‘Masokissed’, with more playful melodies and lyrics that you can’t help but smile at: “Sweet masokissed/in the morning mist/Why would you ever leave this place/when all I need is your chip-toothed smile/to know that life’s more than ok?”

With two full-length releases already under their belt, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart are starting to focus in on and fine tune what it is they do best. They know who they are as a band, though they’ve lost a couple members along the way, and most importantly, they know their sound. That sweet, likable quality so present in everything they create has almost become a trademark at this point. Rather than ignore this, Berman and crew have highlighted it with lovely tunes that are warm and catchy to a fault. Days of Abandon isn’t for everyone, I have to admit. There are those who prefer something a little more dark in their music; a certain sadness that I guarantee you won’t find on this album. This is an album set to theme the brighter moments in life and allow you to keep your head in the clouds, if not for just a moment…9.7/10

‘Eurydice’

Los Campesinos!: No Blues

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Los Campesinos!: No BluesLos Campesinos! have always been bursting at the seams with chaotic, lovelorn indie-pop. Though, since their wide-eyed debut, Hold On Now, Youngster, that chaos has become more controlled and refined with each release. Their latest full-length No Blues continues that trajectory with positive results. Picking up where they left off on 2011′s excellent, Hello Sadness, the band continues to shoot for bigger hooks and glossier production quality. Though, even as their pop-sensibility becomes more prominent, the group never loses sight of the idiosyncrasies that made you fall in love with this excitable bunch of sad sacks in the first place.

Lead vocalist/lyricist Gareth continues to speak of his misery with his tongue firmly in cheek. Sometimes he is taking lines from the journal of a currently emotive teenager “Retract the blade within his heart, inscribe our initials in the bark.” Other times he is taking lines from the journal of an eternally emotive teenage by the name of Morrissey, “Two words upon my headstone, please, don’t need date or name, just Sad Story.”

While his lyrics remain true to form, as a vocalist Gareth has shown considerable growth. His once nasally yelp has transformed into a tuneful belt. This has helped Los Campesinos! sound reach melodic heights they would never been capable of hitting six years ago. The lead single, ‘What Death Leaves Behind Us’ is the groups most infectious track this side of ‘You! Me! Dancing!’. The song glistens with blissful synth patches that off set the imagery of entombment. It is Gareth’s sleek and catchy vocal melodies, though, that turn this song into summer jam material. Who knows? It might even land them another placement in a Budweiser commercial.

Even as the groups’ sound continues to grow, their roots still remain intact. Standout ‘Avocado, Baby’ has all the components of classic Los Campesinos!: Ridiculous song title, check; spunky gang vocals, check; the term “doe eyes” thrown in the lyrics, check. Added to this mix, though, are drum machines, drum breaks, and Gareth’s most confident (and percussive) vocal performance to date.

For a band that seemed destined to drown in their own buzz (and cheekiness), Los Campesinos! have aged remarkably well over the past six years. Though, their consistency is no big mystery. Los Campesinos! have created five great albums by continuing to push the boundaries of their sound without forgetting what got them there in the first place…8.6/10

Avocado, Baby

Joanna Gruesome: Weird Sister

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Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister: Looks like Joanna Newsom is the latest celebrity victim of eponymic abuse, following the likes of such stars as Charles Barkley, Tom Cruise, Ringo Starr, Elvis, Bon Jovi, and countless others. The culprits: a noisey Cardiffian fivesome by the name of Joanna Gruesome. While the name may be somewhat rue-some, the word “gruesome” is an acceptable descriptor for their innovative brand of trash-pop: take the unabashedly unstable vocals of a female Tom Campesinos! and try to drown them out with an orchestra of well-tamed punkers in a schizophrenic whirlwind of bestial violence (perhaps Joanna Zoosome would have been a more appropriate name) and shoegazed beauty and you’ve got Joanna Gruesome.

What we find on Gruesome’s debut, Weird Sister, is equal parts friendly and fiendly. Take the album’s opener ‘Anti-Parent Cowboy Killer’ for example; we hear singer Alanna McArdle switch back and forth between the aforementioned shoegaze-friendly vocals and unrestrained shouting, while the band powers through the track like a punk rock collective with its shit together. This dichotomy continues throughout the album in various fashions; ‘Sugarcrush’ is full of lush male/female vocal harmonies, but closes with a hail storm of frustrated guitar-chugging and irritated drum-patter, proving that the band views predictability as rather eschew-some.

Perhaps the best example of this dichotomy, though, is on the Cheap Time-like ‘Secret Surprise’ in which McArdle puts off reciting the lyrics “I’ve been waiting to crush your fucking skull” until she’s done screaming the chorus. Such taboo-some lyrics as this can be found throughout the album if you listen closely, as on ‘Lemonade Grrrl’ the only discernible lyrics aside from “lemonade girl” are the repeated angstily inflected f-bombs rendering the album totally lewdsome. I suppose the word “lewd” goes hand-in-hand with punk rock, but when your punk band’s singer has such a lovely singing voice it’s almost like hearing a four-year-old using a curse word innocently, yet correctly, in a sentence.

True, some moments on Weird Sister see the band channel their talent through some less abrasive means, as we hear on ‘Candy,’ which borrows instrumentally from early Built to Spill and lyrically from Snapper (perhaps this version’s more familiar to you). Similarly, the album’s closer, ‘Satan,’ reminds me of an experiment Chad VanGaalen would conduct, despite the fact that vocally VanGaalen is pretty much McArdle’s antithesis. Perhaps these final tracks serve as an indication that the band outgrew some of their youthfulness while recording. But based on their peers’ careers I highly doubt that.

All jokes aside, Gruesome’s debutsome is most impressive in its rapid and unpredictable bipolarity, specifically in the way that the band is able to work alongside McArdle’s constant mood swings in such short amounts of time (if Joanna Gruesome and Terry Malts were actual people, based on their music I wouldn’t be too surprised to see them get hitched). In being an odd combination of punk and twee, Weird Sister is essentially neither of those genres at all, but something oddly in between (“twunk?”). Similarly, they’re neither Joanna Newsom or by any means gruesome; they’re the odd, albeit wonderful, in-between…8.0/10

Sugarcrush

Belle & Sebastian: The Third Eye Centre

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Belle & Sebastian: The Third Eye Centre- In the Urban Dictionary definition of twee, the site refers to Glaswegian indie group Belle & Sebastian as “The Beatles of twee.” It makes sense; the group has been in the game since 1996 and has had plenty of time to establish a sound all their own. Their hazy, light tunes matched with playful, thoughtful, and at times humorous lyrics have carved them out a niche in indie culture. Let’s face it, at this point they’re basically legends. Well now the band is releasing a compilation of rare b-sides and remixes of old favorites entitled The Third Eye Centre and fans are sure to be titillated.

The release begins with a remix of the single ‘I’m a Cuckoo’ off the highly acclaimed Dear Catastrophe Waitress, done by Australian electronic group, The Avalanches. The remix stays true to the upbeat nature of the track. It isn’t overdone like some remixes can be. The changes don’t overpower the song but rather compliment it and make it more vibrant. Lively flutes and maracas only make the tune more infectious. It is odd though when you think about it, though. Belle & Sebastian’s light brand of indie pop isn’t that type of music that one would assume would lend itself to remixes very well. Which is why the sixth track is so jarring and immediately catches listeners off guard. The track is producer Miaoux Miaoux‘s remix of ‘Your Cover’s Blown.’ The original track has a dance vibe in more of a subtle, easygoing sort of way. Think of a dance song circa 1970′s. This remix is much more modern with a heavy electronic influence. Not exactly what you would expect to stumble upon listening to a release from The Beatles of Twee but still a lot of fun and plays to their eccentric nature.

Backtracking a bit, the track ‘Suicide Girl’ plays to the band’s overall sense of story. It is an awkward love story about a young man in love with his best friend who aspires to model for the alt-porn site. With lyrics like “I know that she is special/I can see what she has got/But without her gloves and garnered clothes she will take them to the world/Exposed, she gives it all away” and “But let’s face the facts/we ain’t goin’ back/when she takes off her clothes we’ll never be the same” the whole thing is very tongue-in-cheek. The very next track, ‘Love On the March’ has that same quirky, comical sense when it comes to the lyricism. When it comes to the instrumentation, the track has a bossa nova sound to it. If you close your eyes while the song plays you can almost see the lounge this song would be playing in.

While a good majority of the compilation consists of songs that are upbeat and energetic, it is well-balanced with more calm tunes laden with thoughtful lyrics. Tracks like ‘I Took a Long Hard Look’ and ‘Desperation Made a Fool of Me’ are perfect examples of this in that they allow the listener to take a break from the action and take on a more relaxing and contemplative tone. Then you’ve got the song ‘Meat and Potatoes’ which also slows down the pace but brings back the comedic quality that Belle & Sebastian is so fond of. Another awkward story, this time telling of a couple wanting to spice things up in the bedroom.

It would be so easy to go through each track and dissect each individually. There are so many gems on The Third Eye Centre that it makes one wonder why these tracks were not originally included on prior full-length albums. Regardless, the tracks are being released now on a compilation that as a whole is quirky, fun, and pleasant, which is what Belle & Sebastian have become known for. The group’s fan base is sure to be delighted and even surprised at times…8.9/10

Suicide Girl

Camera Obscura: Desire Lines

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Camera Obscura: Desire Lines — Camera Obscura has a clear sense of self at this point in their career. Over the course of five albums, they have gone from Belle & Sebastian proteges to chamber-pop experts, growing more refined and confident with each release. Their favoritism towards sounding timeless over sounding cool has saved them from being engulfed by the ever changing trends of the indie-sphere. Throughout their 17 year existence they have continued to sound more like themselves with every step they took, and their latest album Desire Lines is no exception to that trajectory.

Despite a four year gap between albums, Camera Obscura is essentially the same band we left off with on My Maudlin Career. If you are looking for a game changer you won’t find it here. Even with cameo appearances by Jim James and Neko Case the album does not offer a drastically different listening experience from their previous efforts. Though if you are a fan craving for another strong set of Camera Obscura songs, the album won’t disappoint.

On Desire Lines, the band continues to perfect their blend of sunshine-pop melodies and melodrama. Lead singer/songwriter Tracyanne Campbell hasn’t lost her knack for stealing lines out of your diary without you knowing it. Her lyrics still fall somewhere between school girl naïvety and cynical adult wit. One moment she’s “dying the arms of a twenty year old” the next she is making “New Years resolution’s to write something of value.”

Despite its brief orchestral opener, aptly titled ‘Intro,’ the band is more selective with their use of orchestration on Desire Lines in comparison to its string heavy predecessor. Instead the album relies more on bright synth tones, 60s girl group vocals, and jangle-pop guitar work. This is best exemplified on the standout track ‘Troublemaker.’ The song is an infectious mix of ascending guitar riffs, rolling synths lines, and AM pop vocals that is sure to make She & Him envious on their summer tour together.

Another highlight of the record is ‘Cri Du Coeur’. The song is carried by an undercurrent of plucked violins and bossa nova rhythms while Campbell’s vocals shimmer and swell with the lush orchestration. When Campbell sings “I know I’ll cry,” during the songs chorus, her soaring vocals makes her defeat sound nothing short of gorgeous. The album ends with the title track, a country tinged ballad with slide guitars that weave around Campbell’s yearning vocals. All of this is complimented by Grammy-nominated producer Tucker Martine’s warm and inviting mix.

Though Camera Obscura displays a master level of craftsmanship on Desire Lines, their songwriting formula isn’t immune to redundancy. Each song on the album falls into one of two categories: sullen ballads or uptempo twee-pop. Though many of the bands songs fall under these two umbrellas, they tend to blur together more frequently on Desire Lines than on previous releases.

Minuscule complaints aside, Desire Lines is a smart, sophisticated, and heartfelt addition to the band’s catalog. It’s impressive to see a band almost two decades into their career with little signs of fatigue to show for it. Though Camera Obscura may not be providing us with reinvention, they have again given us the comfort of consistency… 7.7/10

Troublemaker