Saturday, October 25, 2014

Feel Something

The History of Apple Pie
Feel Something
(Marshall Teller)

I love love love the 2013 debut album Out of View by The History of Apple Pie (see #2 pick of the year here).  I cannot emphasize this enough.  What it lacks in all out originality (really, what is truly original these days?), it more than makes up with sheer exuberance.  Rarely have I come across an album so filled with a clear and tangible energy.  That album bleeds with a rush of electricity and momentum and never ceases to paste a grin upon my stupid face,

Well, that was 2013, and now they are already back (like bands used to do – release an album about once a year) with their second full length.  Not a lot has changed, except bassist Kelly Lee Owens has been replaced by new member Joanna Curwood.  The band is still spearheaded by the wonderfully adorable Stephanie Min and gurus Jerome Watson and Aslam Ghauri, whose twin guitar assaults continue to astound with force rather than intricacy.  This time around, the sheer runaway whoosh of their music is tempered a bit.  That rarely captured runaway train that is their debut feels more studied here and it stifles the initial impression.  This is visceral music that tends to sound better the louder it goes, so reeling in the reigns takes a bit of getting used to.  Luckily, the band has added a little more variety to the mix to make up for the less aggressive attack.

We initially got a glimpse of their minor expansion with last year’s single “Don’t You Wanna Be Mine?”  This bouncy – echo laden pop number has more in common with early Inspiral Carpets than anything they’ve done before, especially with the addition of some crazy organ and a dance vibe.  This album is more spacious and open overall – allowing these new sounds to make their impact in a subtle way.  There’s 60’s groovy sound of “Special Girl,” which adds more new wrinkles with buzzing keyboards and what at times sounds like someone letting squealing air out of a balloon.  The piano driven shuffle of the other pre-LP single “Tame” again brings some addictive elements, even if it doesn’t have the same urgency of their earliest singles like “Mallory” and “See You,” but check out the amazing drum roll transitions from drummer James Thomas!  Wow!   The newest single “Jamais Vu” (or never seen) strikes maybe the perfect balance between where this band has come from to where they may be headed.  The song includes more deft musicianship and space, but they let things loose and unleash some serious noise during the chorus (“Who cares?  I don’t”). 

Unlike their debut this album took me a few extra listens before its charms began to batter their way into my thick skull.  The cracks started with the final three songs.  The stumbling, off-kilter beat of “Ordinary Boy,” at first feels discombobulating, until its quick transition into a wide open massive addictive sing-along chorus and I love the bridge with their trademark simple scales style guitar “solo” that is really a layering technique for an explosive instrumental rush.  Next up, the penultimate song “Snowball,” which should be a freaking huge radio hit all across the globe, reclaims this band’s strength of creating super sugary sweet melodies within bubbling over noisy chaos and I never want it to end.  Finally, the album closes with “Just Like This,” which acts as a perfect dreamy conclusion to a pretty good collection.

It will be very interesting to see where The History of Apple Pie decide to go next, but in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the smiles they’ve been giving me the last 18 months.  What a treat.

The History of Apple Pie "Jamais Vu"


Thursday, October 23, 2014

We Come from the Same Place

Allo Darlin’
We Come from the Same Place

Besides poorly written music reviews and rambling directionless musings about medical issues, this blog is littered with half formed failed efforts at short stories.  These weak efforts I have sporadically posted have always portrayed moments in time.  The goal, I suppose, is to capture immediacy and meaning in the mundane – to find drama in the unspoken and undone.  Maybe this is part of why I draw so much from Allo Darlin’ (silly name aside), because singer Elizabeth Morris’ lyrics effortlessly paint emotional moments in time in so few words.  She can convey more imagery and meaning in one stanza than I could ever achieve in 4,000 bumbling words.

Allo Darlin’ have always evoked the emotional depth and poeticism of the legendary Go-Betweens, along with the simple charm of The Lucksmiths (especially their final LP 2008’s First Frost) – two long time favorites.  We Come from the Same Place is their third long player and it has a come with high expectations.  I was a little lukewarm with their 2010 debut, but once I made the effort to listen to the 2012 second album, Europe, I discovered that they were on to something pretty damn special (my #2 pick for record of the year – see review here), and it has remained on heavy rotation ever since.  There’s often a fear of what may come from a newly favorite band.  Will they stick to the same formula?  Will they expand and grow?  Will they somehow stay true to the spark that first drew us to them?  It’s a no win scenario for most artists.  If they don’t develop, people will eventually lose interest.  If they broaden their horizons, there’s no way to know if their fan base will follow them down that path (and then disparage them for making the effort).  Allo Darlin’ somehow managed the ultimate trick from debut to album number two, by sticking to the same formula, but making it sound more powerful and poignant.  The same cannot be said of the transition from Europe to this latest release, but despite sticking to their guns this is still fresh.  Maybe their strengths lie in the sheer friendliness of their sound and Morris’ words.  Paul Rains’ fresh and endlessly melodic guitar leads, Bill Bottling’s deep bass lines, and Mike Collins’ spiky drums fills are comforting, while Morris’ rich vocals and her sentimental vignettes of love found, lost, or missed from all over the world feel like postcards from one’s oldest and  dearest friend.  Their music contains a warmth and lushness that feels welcoming.

The album opens with the endearing “Heartbeat,” a tale of a drunken night out dancing with friends – probably in an effort to get over a recent break-up, so the fun and games is entrenched in lingering heartbreak (“I’m starting to think true romance is fictional”).  There actually seems to be a lot of drinking across many of these stories.  The wine comes out in “Angela” as Morris does her best to help a friend get through a recent break-up and one absolutely heartbreaking chorus: “And the hardest thing we ever have to learn is when those we love don’t love us in return.”  Meanwhile, “Kings and Queens” (originally released on the 2012 Where It’s At Is Where You Are Records 7777777 singles club release) finds our narrator hopping from bar to bar and feeling the high of being in love and having fun.  Rains joins Morris on vocals in the sweet duet “Bright Eyes” - reminding a little of the gone too soon Standard Fare, except things are okay here.  It’s nice to hear Rains unleash a little buzz and feedback on his guitar as this song climaxes.  The entire band brings an edge to “Half Heart Necklace,” where we find Morris delving into a song about falling for the bad guy.  There’s more upbeat pop perfection with “Romance and Adventure” – a song filled with mixed emotions, but the dreamy chorus put things on hold for a brief moment as Morris admits a need to revel in her sadness (“I’m just tired of being strong”).  It’s this open hearted honesty that is Allo Darlin’s strength.  When their earnest and tangibly genuine music plays, one can feel the passion of each song long before delving into the vivid short story lyrics. 

We Come from the Same Place ultimately comes to a happy ending.  The final three songs, though fraught with uncertainty, come to the realization and acceptance of finding love and a willingness to let go and enjoy the adventure.  The anticipation and nervous excitement of the record’s closing song, “Another Year,” is absolutely bursting in the slow glide and bounce of the music, while Morris describes a sketchy plane trip into the unknown and the beginning of a new life.  Because it feels so real, it is ultimately encouraging and inspirational.  Another lovely album.

Allo Darlin' "Romance and Adventure"