No, I haven’t misread the artist’s name… I understand she is a “Li”, but this is a relatively recent purchase and just gets in under the wire before I close up the L shop.
Our house has a soft spot for Scandinavian poplets, and Lykke Li is the latest additional to our stable.
unfamiliar with her debut, I came to this with an open mind. Immediately, I was struck by the swagger and boisterousness of what could have been a much more twee album.
Li has embraced so many influences that I’d run out of reviewing space if I listed them all. Of folks we’ve seen around here, Depeche Mode appear front on centre in the rhythms of I follow rivers, while huge chunks of the album evoke the recent efforts of Florence and co:
The album lacks the pomposity of either artist, however, with the vocals staying the right side of operatic (indeed, they manage to both breathy and pure). The production values on here are very, very high, with a willingness to treble it up so as to embrace some pre-70s garage sound (yet with a very electro feel).
I wouldn’t describe this as a party album, but that’s probably because I don’t tend to go to too many of those soirees with absinthe, candelabras or other such steampunk motifs.
File under: A triage treasure
So finally we turn our backs on the Lucksmiths and tune in to an album that has been getting pretty regular spins in my world for 17 years.
This is one of the rare CDs in my collections that I’ve always enjoyed, that has a distinct sound and context, and which has never prompted me to seek out anything else of theirs nor wonder whether I could see them live.
This quartet of female New Yorkers dropped this fine collection of tracks way back in 1994. While the band’s indie cred should have been assured (their drummer hailed from an early incarnation of the Beastie Boys), they got a little lost in the buzz around bands like the Breeders, PJ Harvey and the like.
It’s understandable in that there were no wailing guitars (or voices) here, but rather a curious funk lounge disco vibe. It’s a bunch of summer-in-the-city tracks, with sleepy but kinda sexy vocals and a soulful hip hop vibe not unlike the Boys’ instrumental efforts.
This is a groove album. While a few tracks stand out (Deep Shag, Citysong, Strongman) really it’s about the 45 mins of a single sound that evokes some very chilled, hip NYC squat/loft filled with Chloë Sevignys and Zooey Deschanels… and you’re all invited:
File under: A recipe for fun
A week’s a long time in football, and like dog years, in music-reviewing time a day is the equivalent.
While Naturaliste drew analogies to a tired, lacklustre football performance, this follow-up sees the band burst back on to the field with much-needed enthusiasm and zip, suggesting perhaps we’d experienced merely a Hiccup in our Happiness.
Horns are blown, babababas abound and I feel much…well…warmer.
The first three tracks on this album kick goals with welcome energy. Sure there is less experimentation, but I don’t mind. I’ve become the fan who wants to see the same old routines.
Well, I do for the first half. But by the time we’re done bragging about knowing folks in San Francisco, I’m starting to get a little restless again.
After the (very delightful) twee² of Sunlight in a Jar, my teeth are starting to ache from excessive sweetness, and I yawn distractedly through the subsequent five tracks.
When all looks lost, up pops a closing track that ticks most of the ‘should hate this’ boxes (under-structured, no chorus, indulgent phrasing, glowing references to hipsters at parties with tattoos), but which I find mesmerising – Fiction. As a final instalment to my extensive Lucksmiths odyssey (I didn’t buy their last two albums) it is a wonderful surprise twist in the tale:
File under: Thanks for the warm fuzziness
I spent a very chilly and depressing afternoon yesterday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
I was there to support my football team of choice as they took on the powerhouse club de jour. We started well, in the sense that we scored first… but this was a false dawn, and the game was soon a massacre. I was left disappointed and disheartened.
Listening to this 2003 album sees me follow a similar trajectory. The album kicks off in a promising fashion. Camera Shy is one of strongest tracks from the second half of the band’s discography, with intriguing pacing and some deft writing (and a nice word of the day – heliolithic).
Soon, however, we are in a mess of mis-kicks and poor decision-making . The band gets bogged down in mundane variations on their least interesting, soporific balladry.
Beyond the somewhat promising Sandringham Line and the borderline sh*t- sibling Midweek Midmorning (possibly Darryl to T-Shirt Weather‘s Wayne Schimmelbusch), there is little to redeem this afternoon on the paddock.
To keep this awkward analogy going, this album should be seen as a one-time powerhouse team whose game-plan is looking stale and old hat trudging through a season with too little of their old spark and passion.
File under: Time for a clean out?
This is the 7th album in the Lucksmiths’ discography.
It isn’t a ‘real album’, however. Rather it is a collection of singles etc from a three-year period.
As such, it’s a surprisingly coherent opus, with a fuller band sound, greater use of horns, organs and other non-stringy instruments. To those who remember the simpler, early days this does mark a point where competence and musicality overwhelmed the sense of playfulness and ad-hockery we’d grown used to.
The world of ‘twee indie pop’ is really several (not mutually exclusive) sub-genres of the (i) low-fi/ anaemic (ii) brash acoustic powerpop (iii) layered and lush and (iv) the outright pretentious.
I would argue that the Luckas typically steered clear of (i) and (iv), but certainly shifted away from (ii) (to (iii)) over time. It’s a shame but understandable. Their last gasps of unashamed pop are wonderful – see T-Shirt Weather:
The more tranquil tracks are still admirable and catchy takes on nostalgia (Cassingle Revival, I Prefer the Twentieth Century), boardgames (Even Stevens) and domestic roadtrips (Southernmost, Great Dividing Range).
Moving further and further away from the band’s last live efforts, I’m surprised how languid and loungey their albums feel. The urge to sway is defeating any memory of dancing and jumping… the passing of youth?
File under: Milestone or millstone?
Patient readers, I am alive, but lazy. Here’s my first review in over a month!!
In the very early days of courting my eventual wife, I purchased her this CD. Thankfully she liked it, as I was very into it (and this band) at the time.
As an intro to the band, this album works well, as there are still hints to their earlier playfulness and punnery.
Self-Preservation is poppy gold that certainly worked as an anthem for our burgeoning relationship. And in terms of wordsmithing, this could Marty Donald’s finest moment: “why don’t you let go of your boy and see you’ve lost none of your buoyancy?” (Synchronised Sinking).
This is principally a slow, delicate album, with few bursts of energy (it probably marked the point when their gigs become a lot more about swaying than jumping around). At its best, this style is mesmerising, such as on the heartbreaking heroin tale First Cousin. At times in can be a little too twee and dull however.
In the end, the high points of this album far outweight the more meandering. If you kicking of a romance in the coming weeks, feel free to copy my strategy and pop this in the mail for your suitee…
File under: Coquettish?
I’ve never found there to be much of a correlation between the length of an album and it’s quality. If anything a meandering album is often a sign of miscalculated confidence or an inability to cull.
This is perhaps the shortest of the Lucksmiths albums, with only ten tracks over 27 minutes. And it’s songs weren’t even conceived or recorded in an album setting (collecting as it does songs from singles, b-sides, and a couple of compilations), yet it is close to their strongest release thus far.
Gone are all allusions to literature and history, with the songwriting focused on the everyday, on seemingly effortless wordplay, and on a diversity of song structures (yet devoid of too much noodling).
The album opens with a classic exercise in all the above-mentioned arts, with the punny title Untidy Towns:
What follows are tales of depressed friends (Pin Cushion), in depressing jobs (Edward, Sandwich Hand), who leave housemates hungry (The Art of Cooking For Two), but who have excellent driving skills (A Great Parker).
I’ve always delighted in the rambunctiousness of Beer Nut, and imagine being scribbled from within a cracking hangover.
I enjoy this album as a rainy afternoon listen (and have enjoyed seeing some snowflakes out my window during this review).
File under: Tell your friends
If ‘...Bicycle Case‘ and ‘What Bird…‘ were the albums where the Lucksmiths seemed a little over-involved in British history, then this album could be seen as the album where the band graduated to more contemporary content.
Sure, there are still a book-ish track (World Encyclopedia Of Twentieth Century Murder), and one imagining of British prison widows (Train Robbers’ Wives), but the rest are wonderfully ensconced in the inner urban milieu.
These are songs about parks (Under the Rotunda), entendre (Little Athletics), and disappointing incompatibilities (Punchlines) – each strong tracks that are infectious in a more subtle and longlasting fashion than much of the band’s more direct earlier work.
This is also an album with two standout travelling songs – both more bittersweet than is typical for this topic. Caravanna captures the melancholy of craving change and movement, but also drifting apart:
Guess How Much I love You is an unembarassed ode to the travails of separation with some great imagery and aching sentiments.
The album is diluted by a couple of weaker tracks that prompt me to skip most times (Up, Columns of Steam), but still stands as one of their strongest efforts.
File under: A Good Kind of Tweenessness
I distinctly remember my excitement at the release of this 3rd full-lengther from the Luckas.
This may well have been the peak of my enthusiasm for this band as a live outing, and I suspect most of the tracks were pretty familiar to me by the time I heard them on here.
As such, often the quirkier and difficult-to-play-live tracks tended to get the most attention.
On here that was probably the sway-worthy Snug, the blink-and-you-miss-it Jennifer Jason, and the silly Off With His Cardigan.
In the clear light of hindsight, it is the big inner suburban indiepop gems that shine now.
Track after track on here could form the soundtrack for a series of montages in some low-budget, slacker fest. A Housewarming, a tramride (Day in the City) , some park shenanigans (Frisbee), an airport scene (Twenty Two), and then some Mini golf (Putt Putt), it’s all there for the taking:
This felt like a time when the band would never run out of ideas. I introduced a variety of folks to this band over the time, and most came away smiling at tales of librarians (“with the heart of Danielle Steel“), and sad bastards who sit around all day in Carlton pubs (Macintyre).
File under: Worth at least two in the bush
In between their debut and this second album, The Lucksmiths released a fantastic EP titled Boondoggle.
It saw their sound leap into some crystal clear poppy wonderland. That lesson wasn’t forgotten here, but added to the mix was a big dose of history.
The trio get all olde skool with a Thomas Hardy-inspired tale of public hangings (with a nifty waltz backing, and recorder solo no less!), some Hiroshima action, more aviator action, a Roald Dahl paean (William and Mary) and the thorny old Tichbourne Claimant.
Alongside these history/lit lessons are some cinematic (and crime) allusions in the noir Detective Agency and the jaunty Jewel Thieves (where the band harmonise as only they can’t):
While these are all entertaining diversions well executed, it is the modern-day, snapshot of life tunes which are the most endearing and enduring.
I am constantly drawn to the preciousness of Two Storeys, the poignancy of the defiant mother-to-be in From Here to Maternity, the optimism of Motorscooter and the intimacy of Mezzanine.
As you can see this is an album I know back to front, and it’s never worn out its welcome with all these contrasts and intrigues.
File under: A solution to life’s many mysteries