It must be good to be Adam Schlesinger. Not only is he one of the main cogs behind two of America’s smarter, savvier pop outfits (Ivy and Fountains of Wayne, two groups that would otherwise be entirely unrelated), but he can also lay claim to having written the insatiable title song to That Thing You Do, a half-dozen more on the soundtrack to the underrated movie adaptation of Josie and the Pussycats, producer to some of the pop underground’s top drawer talent (including David Mead and yes, even Fastball … remember them?), and heck, he even co-owns a swell studio with former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha. Tell me you wouldn’t want to be Adam Schlesinger. That’s right. Of course you would. Who wouldn’t want to be the Quincy Jones of the pop underworld?
It wouldn’t be a stretch to think of Ivy as Adam Schlesinger’s “other” gig by virtue of Fountains of Wayne’s modest success, but if the quality of the music had anything to do with that determination, they might very well have to ride in the same tour bus. Ivy’s fourth LP of originals (and fifth overall), In The Clear, is full of the group’s stock-in-trade, smooth, breezy pop that carries frontwoman Dominique Durand’s airy vocals along like clouds through dusky twilight. If you’ve run those Zero 7 records into the ground by now, In The Clear would make a fine proxy in the interim.
Schlesinger and guitarist Andy Chase are Ivy’s musical nervous system, the two masterminds behind a group that has reached that inevitable crossroads in their career where they have found the need to cross their early gifts, in this case their melodic sense, with their accumulated skills, in this case their studio experience. For the most part, they succeed in putting those two things together. Compared to their back catalogue, they’re not exactly rocking the boat stylistically-speaking, but these guys know what a good hook sounds like and where to put it. They’re also well aware that they have a unique lead vocalist, the Paris-born Durand, at their disposal. With In The Clear, they sound comfortable, but not complacent.
Cuts like the opening “Nothing But The Sky” and “Four In The Morning” play up the gravitationally-challenged, late-night implications of their titles, creating some effectively dreamy soundscapes. Each one is immediately adjacent to a hooky, uptempo popper, “Thinking About You” and “Tess Don’t Tell” respectively, either of which would be right at home on your local Triple A station placed haphazardly in between the new Jack Johnson and that old Stephen Stills tune about loving the one you’re with. “Keep Moving” rides a synthesizer line and skittering beat straight out of 1985, and the jaunty “I’ve Got You Memorized” gets you some good perspective on Durand’s accented vocals. Her vocals could occasionally use a little closed-captioning, but being that CDs are an entirely non-visual medium, you’re just going to have to suck it up. Besides, it’s only pop music; knowing the words isn’t exactly crucial to getting the vibe.
All in all, In The Clear is the kind of album that would be best served accompanying a nightcap after a night on the town with friends. It never steps into unexpected territory, but that isn’t synonymous with “dull” by any means. It’s a crisp, well-made album that embraces its production values without rolling around in them. Durand might be an acquired taste for some, but for me she’s at least a couple of steps ahead of Gwen Stefani’s proto-empowering yelps or the Olympic-level histrionic note strangling of innumerable American Idol contestants that would snap an ordinary person’s diaphragm in half. God forbid that someone actually sing within the confines of the song. Toss Durand’s sublime vocals in with two guys who know their way around a pop song, and you’ve got one pretty darn good album that knows where it belongs, no more, no less.
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.