, May 9th, 2012 07:20
Europe! Some expectations you're stoking with that title, Allo Darlin' – a vast distance, a turbulent history, not to mention the band responsible for 'The Final Countdown' (and all splendid Arrested Development scenes resulting). By all indicators this album should encompass a great distance. 'The Letter' finds Elizabeth Morris name-checking the "frozen sea of Sweden", the "shattered dreams of England" and NYC's Silver Jews, all filtered through an Aussie accent that at times transforms completely into that of Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell (Scottish)… It's like some sort of Indie Polygon.
But the actual, felt range of these ten songs is minimal. Allo Darlin' exhibit a few indie-pop hallmarks that have begun to grate. They use cutesy made-up words like 'Capricornia', they have a soft spot for wet balladry like 'Tallulah' – and, well, yeah, they name a song 'Tallulah'. This stuff risks them nosediving into obscurity in the Polygon, or a ghetto of their own devising: a grimy underpass crammed with cow-eyed young men and women strumming ukuleles at each other. Nobody wants it to come to that – Allo Darlin' are a good people, great performers, energetic and charismatic. Did you hear that one single 'Henry Rollins Don't Dance'? The horn section contains multitudes!
That's the thing: there are other pop clichés that will always be powerful, in the right hands. And when Allo Darlin' deploy those – when the tambourines turn to froth, when the lead guitar circles the heart like twine – it is artisanal. 'Neil Armstrong' and 'Wonderland' are instantly memorable, something about the Byrds-meets-Buck jangle of the former, the cartwheeling, Lucksmithsy riffage of the latter. 'The Letter' and 'Still Young' chase each other to the album's end like puppies, the vocalists yelping to each other, "let's bring it back, let's bring it back / 'cause we're still young". The melody is a Konami code, a simple sequence yielding infinite nostalgia.
So yes, the band's output is relatively one-note, two notes at most – a C and an F, a 'love you' and a 'miss you' on pink Post-Its. Tonally and generically, the album is not so much a continent as a small country. But it's a beautiful country, warm and vibrant. Pop is the continent. Infatuation is the continent. Europe is competent in both traditions.