Friday, May 17, 2013

The Brunettes - Structure and Cosmetics (2007)

This is the third full length album by the Auckland twee-pop duo. Some of the playful innocence has been lost, and the cover is more mature, more sophisticated depicting Jonathan and Heather in a white tiled room, Heather is applying make-up while Jonathan gazes up at the camera. It is all very clean, polished and stylish (somewhat marred by the crack across my plastic box, grrr, I think it was there when I bought it). Inside the booklet is equally as clean and polished - black font on bright white, no capital letters in sight (or any punctuation except ' and " and ...). I believe the cd is designed to look like a compact. Very meta.

We open with the dreamy, almost trance-like "brunettes against bubblegum youth". It is heavier on the electronica-pop feel than previous instlaments. Plenty of hand clapping, vocals and the triumphant hum of their various interesting instruments (glockenspiel,  mellotron, rhodes, melodica... I don't even know what half of these are!). Lyrics are repetitive, the same verse repeated numerous times.
"My sugar, my honey, my b-a-b-y, baby..."
Soothing and pleasant listening, but not overly stimulating or exciting.

 It merges right into "stereo (mono mono)" which is a fun piece, in which the two vocalists have fun with the vocals switching between speakers. Heather's voice is sweet and gentle, innocent as a butterfly's flickering wings. Jonathan's voice is low and soothing. This is a quite amusing piece.

"her hairagami set" is a soft, soothing, electronically dominated number. It has a cruisy, dreamy feel to it, like softly lying on a feather bed and drifting off into the clouds. It seems to be a song about playing with your hair. The video is really good - watch it!

Another slow and cruisy number, "credit card mail order" is dominated by Jonathan's vocals, with a melancholic air.

Now it appears to be time for an "obligatory road song" which is also slow and has a somber air. The lyrics are somewhat amusing, however:
"stealing motel condiments on our leap in the dark"
 Heather's vocals take over the melancholy in "small town crew". Another slow and somewhat bittersweet number, with some brilliantly moody backing instruments. It sounds a little like a piano accordian, but it could be an organ, I suppose? The pace picks up a bit at the end, soars and then drops away.

Sweet and innocent vocals lead us into the more typical Brunette duet of "if you were an alien" with its playful guitar strumming and vocal interchanges. Lovely harmonies and references to pop culture. Love it:
"if you were alien I'd call you my martian man
bake banana cake as you drive us through the doom..."
Poppy and maudlin, "wall poster star" begins with Heather, but Jonathan joins in. This feels like a song about the loss of innocence, even though the lyrics are relating mainly to the taking down of wall posters and moving onto a more sophisticated way of living. Which somewhat describes this album. For some reason, I really like this line:
"...bouquets are overrated and diamonds cost too much..."
Even though we're already slow, we drop down further into the bittersweet "structure and cosmetics" with its classical instrumentations. Another beautiful duet, switching between the two with the slow and quirky instrumentations adding little flourishes. It has a dreamy, haunting feel to it. A lovely conclusion to the album.

This album shows an increased complexity and more modern sound than their previous instalments, losing some of the childhood innocence and moving into a more mature, somber affair. The additional instruments - like the clarinet, the glockenspiel, organ, harmonica etc all add an extra element of dreaminess and bring it to life, but overall it lacks somewhat in the playful spirit, having a more sophisticated polish. Perhaps, like all of us, the Brunettes are growing up - albeit that they are doing it with tongue-in-cheek, ironic twists and little quirks!

Rating = 8/10.

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