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By The Hedge Tom Killingbeck , January 14th, 2011 08:26

Upon listening to the mordant jangling of this offering from the gloomy Brooklyn duo, you can't help but feel it should have been released a few months back, such is its bleak evocation of the onset of winter. Having hobnobbed his way into the blogosphere through associations with similarly morose lo-fi bedfellows Dum Dum Girls and Girls (it's refreshing that the band doesn't have the word 'girls' in its name, thank Cthulhu), this debut LP sees songwriter and instrumentalist Sean Kilfoyle making concrete the vision of his often nebulous project.

Along with skeletal waif Amalie Bruun, he's collected a somewhat convincing set which should manage to surf the swirling hype. Bruun seems to be the essential ingredient here – By The Hedge would be a lot less beguiling without her soothing yet haunting presence, wavering over Kilfoyle's staccato guitar like the lost child of one of Ivo Watts-Russell's beloved 4AD banshees. The 80s dream pop wave is clearly a source of inspiration here, and comparisons to the gladioli-swinging likes of The Drums also seem a bit off, as the duo clearly have far darker, more bewitching intentions.

That's not to say its fair to lump them in with the ever increasing, disparate vortex of witch house artists either – Minks may indulge in the chipped black nail varnish of the online craze, but theirs is very much a retrospective indie-pop band. They manage to channel gothfathers like Clan of Xymox with the early thin, spindly sound of The Cure, all recorded within painstakingly accurate Sarah Records-era acoustics. With this in mind, the duo could easily undermine themselves should their tunes not compete with those of their ancestors.

Thankfully, on the whole, they manage to get away with it. Opener 'Kusmi' is a highlight from the off, its distant keyboards and softly glum melodies easing the listener gently into their soundworld, a narcotic buzz that conjures images of beautiful dead people in swimming pools at parties in the 80s. Despite an almost self-parodic level of miserablism – song titles include 'Cemetery Rain' 'Funeral Song' and 'Ophelia' – a deftness of touch ensures that the ship usually manages to steer away from cliché-ridden waters.

'Funeral Song' in particular, is peculiarly evocative, shimmering melodies and buried vox planting depressing memories in your mind that you never thought you had. Its chorus – "So long, summertime / Not coming back" is quintessential rainy-day verse, perfect for pondering to while lying in a cold bath and staring out the window at the slate-grey Victorian sky. It's rather bewildering that the two hail from Boston via super-hip Brooklyn; such is the overbearingly English kitchen-sink despair of it all. This is a band whose stiff upper lips have gone numb.

While the album does present a clutch of beautifully formed, stillborn little pop songs (the aforementioned 'Ophelia' and 'Arboretum Dogs' among them) some material simply doesn't stand up to repeated examination. The jangly noodling of 'Indian Ocean' proves the foolhardiness of attempting instrumentals when you're a lo-fi bedroom goth outfit, while 'Boys Run Wild' drowns itself in its own reverb. That said, there are gorgeous moments peppered throughout, where a bashfully heartbreaking little chorus or a Belle et la Bête trading of harmonies will take your breath away. Unfortunately, it's hard not to feel that the marketplace for this sort of thing is groaningly oversaturated, particularly while more established bands like Crystal Stilts are doing more wonderful things in the same soundworld. In amongst these murky waters there's something really quite fascinating stirring; it's just a pity that sometimes this record seems, like the false and dismal memories it plants in your brain, half-formed.

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