Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Moments of 2010: Pop's Not Dead

If you've been following our End-Of-Year stuff thus far, you'll have noticed we don't do lists. We agreed that ranking things is a touch too clinical, and this time of year always gets a bit list-centric anyway, so we've been doing it differently. As with so much of what we've posted here all year, it's been about personal experiences, whether it's been dancing on stage with an African dude or some guy from North Wales going to Manchester and falling in love with everything there almost instantly.

Even so, I'm going in indulge in writing about my album of the year. I mean, it's still about personal experiences and talking at length about something that's touched us this year, right? If you were to look back on some of the articles I've written for this here blog over the past year, you'll notice a theme. A eulogy to Sarah Records. A day with This Many Boyfriends. A piece on festivals inspired by me coming back from Indietracks. Basically, I like my indie-pop. Lots. I take issue with being called twee, though. I'm far too hot-blooded a person to be twee, plus I agree with Dave from the Underachievers club I blogged about earlier this month when he said 'I love indie pop but I hate twee culture'. Never a truer word spoken.

If we'd been running this blog last year then The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart would have walked it. But that was last year, and this is this year. Instead, step forward fellow Fortuna Pop! signings Allo, Darlin' for their self titled effort. It's been a while since I've been genuinely, (ridiculously) excited for a new album release. In fact, the only other ones I can remember are: Room On Fire by The Strokes 2003), Lady's Bridge (2007) and Truelove's Gutter (2009) by Richard Hawley, and the Orange Juice boxset (2010), but since hearing Henry Rollins Don't Dance at the beginning of the year I couldn't wait for the (then) forthcoming album. Henry Rollins...... is a cracker in itself, all gloriously smart-arse hardcore references, stabbing brass and a beat that begs to be danced to. As an opening salvo it really did (and indeed still does) grab the attention. The album had one hell of a lot to live up to.

Thankfully, it delivered. I will stick my neck on the line right from the start and say I reckon it possesses one of the finest 3-song opening sequences I've heard for a long time, if not ever. It nearly seems as though the mission statement during recording was to create a masterclass in writing pop songs. 'Dreaming' clatters along, full of momentum, like the musical equivalent of an errant shopping trolley careering down a hill. They say the devil's in the detail, and we can all relate to stories of catching the nightbus with frost on its windows and a desire to lose it on a disco floor. Throw in some boy-girl vocals and you've got it made, act one in the bag. 'Polaroid Song' is rife with ammunition for those fond of lampooning hipster clich├ęs, with all it's talk of the titular photographic instrument, but you have to have a heart of stone not to love its chiming guitar intro, flourishes of flute, and celebration of the simple things in life (a theme which continues throughout the record). A Breakfast Club aping promo video is the icing on the cake. Act two, BOOM. 'Silver Dollars' is a strong contender for best moment of the whole album, with it's joyous, floor-filling instrumental chorus forming an unlikely bond with lyrics about selling your records but still being in debt by two grand. It might also be the only song ever to have rhymed 'platonic' with 'gin and tonic' with gusto.

Aside from the opening trifecta, the album delivers in a number of other places. 'If Loneliness was Art' starts off from quite humble and stark beginnings to be a devilishly simple but no less effective instant pop hit. 'Let's Go Swimming' shows another side of Allo, Darlin'. Amidst delicate instrumentation and haunting slide guitar Elizabeth Morris tells of seeing an enormous lake in Sweden while telling of her pleasure of seeing something so pure and simple that Camden's punks couldn't shout about, Shoreditch's hipsters couldn't style and Moorgate's bankers couldn't buy. I'm sure to some reading it like that it sounds cloying and lightweight and myriad other derogatory terms, but believe me when all the elements come together it makes a stunning piece of music.

Penultimate track 'My Heart Is A Drummer' shows up a bouncy Bill Botting bassline (there are many peppered throughout the album, but this one's especially good) backing vocals in just the right places, and chiming guitars to set up some of the album's best lyrics. Who can argue with 'It's like loving Graceland, it's not allowed to be but we know it's everybody's favourite where music makes you happiest'. Especially good because, let's face it, we all love a bit of Graceland.

What's even more impressive is how the songs work no matter the size of the venue. You'd be forgiven for expressing doubts about them working on a festival stage, but anyone who saw the performance on the Friday night of 2010's Indietracks can testify that they make the transition flawlessly. Set them in a small venue, though, and they take on a life of their own. Truly a live force to be reckoned with.

It's not a perfect album, but it's pretty damned close. There are a few rough edges here and there such as the missed beat at the start of 'Kiss Your Lips', the fact that The Polaroid Song seems to speed up halfway through, and you'll need to be a film buff to get most of the references in 'Woody Allen' (right over my head). But in a way these little defects are charming in - an overly polished album can feel detached and cold, while ones with defects appear more human and organic.

If you like pop music, you need this album. It'll charm you senseless on first listen and draw you in further and further with each subsequent listen as you become more and more acquainted with the songs and their characters. The themes of flawed happiness resonate wherever you go, transcending barriers and making this record as relevant and pertinent as any you'll find this year.

Allo Darlin's S/T debut is out now on Fortuna Pop!

A free download of 'Tallulah' can be found here https://www.box.net/shared/vz0z7ief2b

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