Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Lovely Few release beautiful, fully-realized music that eschews pop moves

June 14, 2012

The best stuff I hear always takes the longest to review. When something is good, I can quickly explain why it’s good, compare to similar bands, edit for commas, then send some positive vibes out into the world. When something is great, it’s harder than that. There aren’t as many things to compare it to, for one thing; it’s also harder to explain why they songs are great because the songs often excel because they aren’t doing what other tunes do, lyrically and/or musically.

The Lovely Few has put out two great releases in a row: their full-length The Perseids and a follow-up EP The Orionids. (The namesakes are both meteor showers.) I’ve listened to them largely back-to-back, but they do have individual goals: Orionoids was intended to be the more user-friendly version of the Lovely Few sound that is fleshed out in Perseids. The former was necessary because the latter is a full and complete artistic vision that has few compromises or easy comparisons.

The only things I could think of as touchstones were sadly underappreciated Ithica and a way more artistic Postal Service. What The Lovely Few does could lazily be called electronic indie-pop, but that term also encompasses hyperactive stuff like Matt & Kim and Math the Band that have literally nothing in common with The Lovely Few. But the ideas that fall under the indie-pop umbrella are there: soft digital loops, moving vocal melodies, layers of electronic and organic instruments, strong control of space. The things that differentiate the album from indie-pop: an unusual optimism in minor keys that invokes the wonder of staring into space, flowing instrumentals, chorus-less tunes, liberal use of theremin.

Those instrumentals are important because they signal that the The Perseids is more than just a collection of songs: it’s a full-album experience, meant to be heard as a thing. There are highlight tracks, like gentle opener “Smoke in the Field” and the beautiful “Gorgon,” but those two songs are even better when heard in context. The placement of the ominous, mournful “Intrepid” directly before “Gorgon” accentuate’s the latter’s fluidity and reveals a corner of the tune that could be missed or underappreciated in a standalone listening.

The 11 songs of The Perseids create an elegant yet weighty whole. Even though the songs have a lot of space to let sounds echo in (sometimes literally), they never feel empty or undercooked. The tunes gel, and the mood holds. “Swift-Tuttle” is a glacially slow tune built on pad synths that would be rarely heard if considered on its own (except perhaps by ambient enthusiasts), but in the context of the album it makes perfect sense and pulls its own weight. No track here falters when the whole album is listened to at once.

The Orionids EP is not that much different than The Perseids, but it is different enough that I can see how it would achieve the goal of socializing and contextualizing The Lovely Few’s sound. “Orion” sounds just a nudge removed from the mood of Postal Service’s “This Place is a Prison,” what with the distant drumming and electronic loops. The song is more linear, in somewhat of a verse/chorus/verse structure. “Sci Fi Novels” features an electric guitar with its bass knob turned way up as the basis of the song, while reverent “Hunter” is the tune that can segue perfectly into enjoying The Perseids. (Aside from the :24 closer “Celestial Chord,” which is exactly that; you can run it straight into Perseids opener “Smoke in the Field,” and hardly know the albums have switched.) The one exception to the “knocking the pointy edges off” strategy is the glitchy “Try Again,” which is a weird outlier in many ways.

The Lovely Few’s beautiful music is some of the most enveloping that I’ve heard this year. I get lost inside The Perseids, checking out all the nooks and crannies and little sounds that have been lovingly placed inside it. It’s a fully-realized musical vision that often eschews the sure pop moves for the album consistency ones. I love the sound, I love the albums, and I fully recommend these releases to adventurous listeners who still love full albums.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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