Artist: Allo, Darlin’
Record Label: Slumberland Records
There is certainly no shortage of bands producing sunny indie pop. But very few of these have had success creating something that doesn’t feel like just another rehash of old ideas. When the London group Allo, Darlin’ released their debut album in 2010, it sounded like a band that had worked for years to master their songwriting. “Europe,” their follow-up, proves that wasn’t a fluke.
Musically, their charm is subtle but undeniable. The quartet infuses the clean jangle-pop guitar sound with lapsteel and the occasional ukelele. At their fullest, their immensely catchy hooks come complete with arpeggiated guitars and pulsing drums on “Capricornia” and “Still Young.” With a simpler setup, these pop tunes might tire out quickly, but the band remains ever dynamic. As a result, the tunes are still rewarding a dozen listens in.
The lyrics are just as sweet as the name Allo, Darlin’ suggests, and that is what makes “Europe” such a remarkable record. When singer-songwriter Elizabeth Morris sings “It feels like the world is ending / but I’m with you / and I don’t care,” in “Wonderland,” it feels more like a conversation than a diary entry.
Indeed, most of Morris’ words are musings on friendship and love, but her voice carries them naturally and with perfect enunciation. She’s always somewhere between all-out crooning and breathy whispers, without any sense of disaffection.
But the most powerful moments come on the most intimate songs, when Morris is accompanied by her ukelele and little else. “Tallulah” manages to be pensive without being pouty: “I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that will mean something / and I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that will mean something,” she sings somberly.
Comparisons to Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura are inevitable, simply because those are the only other groups who have made this indie pop so endearingly their own. So many similar bands sound generic and interchangeable, but Allo, Darlin’ has created a niche for themselves. The band has been together for barely four years, but “Europe” is refreshingly individual.
Sure, twee pop has a hard time being taken seriously. And maybe it doesn’t want to be. This cuter-than-cute music seems tailor-made for girls and boys wearing cardigans and corduroys whose major act of rebellion is skipping class to smoke cigarettes. For many, it is the perennial punch line to the Zach Galifianakis joke in which he ironically names his balls Belle and Sebastian.
But if The Smiths (forerunners to contemporary indie pop that they are) can garner the amount of respect they do with their melodramatic pity parties, it seems a bit unfair to dismiss something like this as too silly, irrelevant or “twee.”
On the album’s closer, “My Sweet Friend,” Morris remembers a day that a famous pop star died: “A record is not just a record / records can hold memories,” she sings but also admits she isn’t convinced. If this sentiment is naïve, then a degree of naïvety is essential to pop music.
“Europe” may be saturated with sweetness, but only the most cynical will roll their eyes at it. And it’s ultimately their loss. Allo, Darlin’ is one of the finest examples of indie pop today, and those who can smile along will find an indispensably heartfelt record.
Three and a half stars out of four stars
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