Origine du Groupe : New Zeland
Style : Indie , Pop , Psychedelic
Sortie : 2007
the Brunettes: More guilty of wanton clique infiltration than Ronald Miller, the geek-turned-chic from the campy ‘80s masterstroke Can’t Buy Me Love. With enough Spector pop instrumentation and lyrical bullcrap (“I wanna be Jimmy Dean / ‘Cause he was bad / A human ashtray in a Jag”) to dry out and fertilize the Tucson lawns our hero Ronald power-mowed, the Brunettes weren’t content with merely crashing the E6 / Ann Arbor-Detroit indie party—they wanted to filch the scene’s socialites and host next weekend’s gala at their place.
But here’s the rub: It worked. Partly because the Auckland, New Zealand duo are quite adroit at emulating the sonic approach of said peers, bands like Apples in Stereo and Saturday Looks Good to Me. And partly because the Brunettes are self-aware of their fetish for U.S. pop culture (“It’s no secret that when I sing,” chief songwriter Jonathan Bree confesses in “The Moon in June Stuff, “I like to sound American”). In “Summer Love,” Heather Mansfield croons, “And when it hits December / I want a love to remember,” leaving one to scratch their head over an apparent seasonal mix-up before realizing, well, they are from New Zealand.
The husband / wife team of Bree and Mansfield finally penetrated indie’s inner sanctum in 2005, nabbing tour dates with the Shins and inking a deal with U.S. independent giant Sub Pop. A recording stint at the most faddish of indie haunts then followed (Portland, Oregon), resulting in the twosome’s third LP, Structure & Cosmetics.
Desperate quests for upper crust acceptance are only absolved by what the individual finally does with their newfound rank. If you’re Ronald Miller, you lob shitbombs at best bud Kenneth Wurman’s house. If you’re the Brunettes, you deem the classic, three-minute, get-in / state-your-peace / get-out pop gem—a staple on your two previous releases—too confining (seven of nine tracks check in at four minutes plus), trading in your lo-fi leanings for woah!-fi puffery. I’m still trying to decide which is the more egregious of the two.
The overwrought, choir-like vocals on “Brunettes Against Bubblegum Youth” is nothing more than Polyphonic Spree apery. The approach is repeated at the onset of “Stereo (Mono Mono)” before withdrawing quickly, allowing for other recording mishaps to take the fore: Mansfield and Bree’s cringey, we-just-discovered-stereophonic-sound! exchanges and a rather drawn-out, sodden coda.
Bree’s compositions are always heavy with texture, but the high points on Structure & Cosmetics emerge when the song’s thick fabric doesn’t fully swaddle its brio: “Small Town Crew,” the guitar picking and Mansfield’s poignant vocals calling to mind vast swaths of the Sarah Records catalogue, and “Obligatory Road Song,” where the layers of multi-tracking never sap the track’s roseate energy.
There’s also less pop culture moseying: fewer mentions of Gidget, the fun-fun-fun Brian Wilson, ‘57 Chevys, and Rebel Without a Cause-inspired jaunts to the planetarium. On previous efforts, “Wall Poster Star” would be treated as a honeyed hosanna to the day’s American idols; on Structure & Cosmetics, it’s noticeably darker: over a reverb-drenched melody, Mansfield touches upon stardom’s frailties with a chorus of, “Down, down they come / Wall poster star.” And “Credit Card Mail Order” finds Bree covering rather doleful themes in his customary throaty manner: “You bought in / And you sold out / But girl you need love.”
Structure & Cosmetics is the sound of an act attaining in-crowd status, and then quickly illustrating both sonic and lyrical maturity to justify the open-arms acceptance. We don’t expect the Brunettes to be retreating to Ronald Miller-like obscurity any time soon, but a slight return would be welcome.
by Ryan Foley
1 Brunettes Against Bubblegum Youth 4:15
2 Stereo (Mono Mono) 5:03
3 Her Hairagami Set 4:39
4 Credit Card Mail Order 4:11
5 Obligatory Road Song 4:13
6 Small Town Crew 3:53
7 If You Were Alien 4:28
8 Wall Poster Star 3:35
9 Structure and Cosmetics 4:35