Monday, 14 May 2012

Allo Darlin' - Europe


There's something quite innocently delicate and charming, as a result, about today's rung of indie pop acts. Away from this commonplace formula - guitars treading along as if they were pianos; pianos hop-skip-jumping across as if they were guitars - there's no evidence to suggest that this is one of those moment-in-the-spotlight trends that's showing signs of withering. Despite the enormity of a grip that electronic music - some sub-genres more apparent than others - has over contemporary ideas among today's populous (note the lack of the terms 'artist' or 'musician' fellow readers), there is still a sign that the more traditional instruments - albeit, used in a non-traditional method of song-writing - still have their place in a claustrophobic-inducing age of 4/4 synthesizers and walls (no, more like barricades) of solvated sound. Allo Darlin' are just one of these 'independent' pop acts in question, and despite all the sugary sweetness glittering across this still-present region of music, through 'Europe' - the band's follow-up to their charming self-titled debut - the band showcase a thorough and absorbent talent in this fluttering sunshine-bathed pop music.

'Neil Armstrong' opens up with a shining of guitar strings, as if taken straight out of 90s American rock - Elizabeth Morris, the band's female vocalist, exhaling her vocals (her very breaths passing through the very sound-waves) against the glitter of electric strings, bass and pattering percussion underneath. Straight onto the next track, we're taken back across the pond for a more acoustic and humble murmuring of guitar and drums. 'Capricornia' follows the same palette as previous, but this time the track is a much more stereoscopic clouding of vocals and instrumentation. Morris' vocals are much more compiled and multilayered, and as a result, the song feels much more built up and collected. But against the drowning of guitar playing and immediate drum hits, her vocals shine through in a sort of innocent glow of emotions that sound neither forced nor sickly on closer listen.

The album follows this peculiarly forward-facing progression of blissful instrumentation and radiant song-writing, for a major extent of the record. And even though the patterns formulating in these tracks all appear to fall into the same category and region of song structure, there's no shying away from the pleasantness this album manages to create through both the music and Morris' tender vocals. 'Some People Say', despite returning to more somber luminescence in its latter verses, starts off quite somber - a care-free strumming of acoustics laying a rolling platform for Morris to take centre stage and transcend her voice from simple dramatics to something quite awe-inspiring and wondrous in its texture. Even as the track builds up and eventually melts away into a wash of faint strings and percussion, her voice remains true and honest in its tone, and comes off as something quite charming in the wider aspect of the track.

But even when the band decide against welling up our ears with liquifying streams of music that both quench and flood our ears, the optimistically wide-smile deliverance of their music is still as strong on tracks like 'Wonderland' as it is on any of their other pieces. Here, the guitars feel almost improvisational in their playing, never stopping for breath, only leading Morris' vocals into this spectral of both emotional and conceptual lyrical deliverance. But beyond that, the way guitars spring and spike between notes only adds to the kiddish energy this track is full of. There's very little in the way of the developmental side of the music, but here that doesn't seem to be of great importance, given how well the vocals and the music combine so spectacularly. Indeed, even at times when the choice of lyrics are somewhat neck-recoiling in their content as is the case with 'Tallulah' - "So I sent you a postcard from Berlin", Morris breathily puts across, "Of a fat man eating a sausage/It hid the fact that I was hiding." Amidst all this surreal story-telling, against the minimal playing of a ukelele, the way the track feels more expanded and engrossed in what seems like a majority of empty space, is quite admirable and worthy of many repeated listens.

'Still Young' continues the band's cheery pleasant deliverance with more electric guitars being at the forefront of the track's progression. Tiny strums and delicate riffs here and there give the track a more rougher sounding edge to its shape. Morris vocals this time sound as if they are leaning more into the rapid area of performance as opposed to the loftiness of previous tracks. But above all, it's the guitars that return as the highlight of this track, their metal-on-stone grittiness adds somewhat of a flavored tint to the band's instrumentation. 'My Sweet Friend' likewise extends the boundaries, less like a broadening and more of a sort of gentle push on either side. The distant trawling of guitars gives the track a warming breadth to its sound against the more acoustic strums at its heart. And once more, Morris retains her humbleness, the occasional harmonic backing adding more height to what quickly becomes a vast volume of comforting pop sounds.

Given that I'm the kind of listener who appreciates development and artists who thrive on experimental variety of their music, when it comes to what an album's overall content delivers, I do have to admit that the charm and graciously benevolent nature of Allo Darlin's music can, at times, reach far beyond the borders of acceptability. Here, there's an undeniable sense of undiluted enjoyment too. And while some may see their mixture of indie pop as diluting in itself, the fact is is that this is a genuinely pleasant 10-track record, a few seconds short of the forty-minute mark. True, I won't shy away from a critique ending on the note that I would indeed liked to have seen a bit more promise (rather than full-on) of developing into wider corners of both song structure and progression, but if you're willing to bury yourself beneath the surface of glowing guitar pop, what you'll find on 'Europe' is a sound that is both pleasant to hear, and even better, pleasant to refer back to.
~Jordan

7.5

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