Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Brunettes - Paper Dolls (2009)

We are now reaching the end of New Zealand Music Month and I had run out of NZ music cds (excluding my husband's Chills cd, which we have temporarily misplaced the case for, and I still have a number of cassettes to fall back on, anyhow). That was, until I went shopping today. To a music store. Two music stores in fact: the first, Penny Lane, almost lured me into purchasing Pumpkinhead's "Sloth" and the Nixon's "Foma". Luckily I resisted the latter, because I had neglected to remember that whilst there was an NZ band called The Nixons, they had to change their name to Eye TV due to the American grunge band by the same name. And this cd was that of the US band, misfiled in the NZ section.

Anyway, I found my way into another music store (Marbecks) and lucked upon this album instead, for the kingly sum of $10. Now, you might have come to the theory that I am a bit of a metalhead - so the fact that I now own all of the Brunette's full-length albums may surprise you. They are not even close to metal - they are bouncy, poppy; sweet and innocent with a touch of bubblegum and cotton candy. They are rainbows and kite flying; rollerskates and icecream. They are diners and discos; paper dolls and hairagami. They are a duo from Auckland that sound like the belong not only in California, but in California some 50 or more years ago.

They are a charming, quirky, whimsical and playful delight. As is reflected in the album cover. This one is a paperfold out affair with some lovely pencil renderings of Jonathan and Heather, including your very own set of very small paperdolls - complete with clothes. But don't cut them out, because you'll ruin your album cover! It has a clean and polished look to it, rather more whimsical to the sophisticated but sterile whiteness of "Structure..."

As the follow-up to "Structure and Cosmetics", this album also displays a distinct evolution from the 60s bubblegum of their first two albums. It seems they have now attained the 80s.

Piano starts us "In Colours". Colourful, playful, with tinkly, boppy rhythms and percussive instruments. Somewhat more electronic feel than the earlier two albums, and the drum machine merely accentuates that. Heather's voice starts us off, clear and sparkling like a bell, before Jonathan joins her in a harmonising echo.

The drum machine dominates "Red Rollerskates", synth/keyboards soaring back and forth like something from the 80s meeting the 60s - electronica meets retro. Jonathan's voice is distorted, fuzzy at the edges, Heather's chorus pure and sweet - as her asthma problem is cured by the acquisition of a pair of red rollerskates so that:
"...I bought some rope and red rollerskates - now I pull her 'round behind me"
Their lyrics are as delightfully quirky as ever.

Electronica synth retro makes "The Crime Machine" sound almost like an old computer game, bringing us into the 80s. Singing about the 1920s. Echoey computer voices and those high bauble notes should make it feel very dated, but it's so polished and smooth it's just beautiful.

The synth, drum machines and bobbly music continues in "Bedroom Disco" with its powerful rhythms that almost drown out Heather's silver voice. The Macarena is mentioned.

Only the Brunettes could make chip tunes* sound eerie, as "Paper Dolls" has a hauntingly spectral edge to it, enhanced by the slow, high guitar tremelo and the occasional dip and dive of string instruments. It is an unusually eclectic combination of sounds. Heather's voice is its usual, innocent and fragile self; whilst Jonathan's more droll and serious strikes a strange harmony. The lyric sheet finishes about halfway through the song, with some odd stationery references in the latter part:
"... a post it note beside the phone. An HB pencil sharpened well..."
It's time to make a "Connection". Opening with more of the eerie and synthesized keyboards, then the boppy, poppy rhythms come in, Heather's voice all pure sweetness and innocence. Interestingly enough, the lyrics reflect a more modern era than the music does, and it appears that they both enjoy French films. The drum machine is back in, along with some very tinkly rhythms.

There's something very, very familiar about the opening melody to "It's Only Natural". It certainly has very bouncy rhythms. When I saw it on the tracklist I was kinda hoping it would be a cover of a NZ classic, but it's a song about hair colour, I believe. Very boppy and retro. Polka dots and high hair.

And the drum machine is back; bringing with it a somewhat dance vibe. "Magic (No Bunny)" is another playful duet; combining Heather's high and playful innocence with Jonathan's more sophisticated, droll humour.

A hauntingly melancholic piece, "If I..." has a romantic feel to the music, and also the lyrics - until you start studying them closer. The duo discuss their feelings on what should happen if one of them were to, well, die:
"If I should accidentally die and leave you much too soon - would you play and sing our songs the same, with somebody new?"
The reference to Jonathan as a "sweet romantic tool" is quite amusing.

Guitars and actual drums bring us into the closing track, as the duet say "Thank You". To all of the fans, the listeners, around the world. It's bubbly and bright and kind of reminds me of ABBA.

Overall, this is a fun and playful album. The mix is not as strong as the previous endeavours: the electronica chip tunes drowning out the vocals in some of the tracks. Overall it seems a little less experimental, despite the 80s vibe to the instrumentation (I think I prefer the percussion, thank you) and lacks some of the freshness of the earlier albums. Whilst still a pleasing aural experience, it does feel rather like they've found their niche and are now stuck in it.

It's also a very short album, clocking in at around 35 minutes.

Rating 7/10.

* My husband just told me the official name for them!

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