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The Proper Ornaments
Wooden Head Houman Barekat , June 12th, 2014 10:23

Fans of Toy or Metronomy are likely to have seen The Proper Ornaments in action - they've supported both bands on recent tours. A deft stroke of PR airbrush has consigned 2013's ten song Waiting For The Summer (Lo Recordings) to the status of "EP" or "collection" - it was categorically not a debut album. This here - the album under review, this one - is their actual debut. Their full-length debut, if you will. Fine.

The band's signature characteristics are all on show on Wooden Head: a laconically sincere lyrical register; a certain sentimental preoccupation with weather (song titles include 'Step Out Into The Cold', 'Sun', 'Summer's Gone', etc.); and the dreamy jingle-jangle guitars that are their sonic hallmark, with their vague promise of regeneration and renewal breaking through wistful melancholia. They also have a penchant for brevity: aside from 'You Shouldn't Have Gone' - hardly Godspeed!-esque at 4 minutes 19 seconds - none of the tracks exceed three-and-a-half minutes, and the majority clock in at under three minutes.

'Now I Understand' is the archetypal Proper Ornaments song - a lo-fi, fleetingly brief, Byrds-like fuzzy stomp massaged by spiky hooks. This is an album of contrasting moods: the upbeat anthemic drive of 'Step Out Into The Cold' is all chorus and no verse, whereas the broodingly melodic 'Always There' is discomfortingly morose for what appears to be a love song. Subjects range from a day in the life of a bullet ('Magazine') to the hereafter ('You'll See') and, in the case of the album's standout track, that ever-dependable lyrical wellspring, depression: 'Summers' Gone' is a perfect nugget of affectingly poignant brilliance, a weary, bittersweet ode to the pitfalls of personal autonomy: "no excuses needed here at all / now that you're old enough to lose your own mind".

If there's a quibble to be had it's that, on a very few songs, the influences loom a little too large. 'You Shouldn't Have Gone' sounds rather too much like BRMC's 'Salvation' and not enough like anything else. But Wooden Head is, for the most part, refreshingly distinctive. Its great achievement is to sound both translucently weightless - unselfconscious, bordering endearingly naïve - and at the same time substantial and taut. The album's total absence of sheen is, one suspects, a deliberate strategy, of a piece with the band's unassuming aesthetic. It takes a lot of thought and precision to sound this effortless; cue the obligatory Velvet Underground reference.

Whether by accident or design, Wooden Head is a charming record. It oozes gentle optimism - evoking, in its quiet euphoria, some halcyon aural safe place of lush hazy sunshine. Making a June release, then, entirely apt.