Rating: 3.75/5“Twee” has become a kind of pejorative applied to the infantile, the overly cute and the superficial in indie music. While this label is convenient, it’s also not entirely fair. Sure, it’s easy to grow weary of the umpteenth pop band singing gentle, unassuming tunes about strolling wide-eyed down the streets of various European cities or meeting someone special at a dimly lit café, all accompanied by the strains of out-of-tune ukulele and barely audible snare drum. As groups like Belle and Sebastian have proven with their best work, though, there’s no reason why the most tired genre clichés can’t be transcended and revitalized to yield interesting, emotionally resonant art.
Take Allo Darlin’, for example. The London-based quartet justifiably received quite a lot of praise for its 2010 debut record. The band started as a songwriting showcase for Australian vocalist Elizabeth Morris. From the beginning, it was clear that her songs were more sophisticated than those from many of her indie-pop counterparts. Her unique voice had the simultaneous innocent sweetness one expects from the genre and an unexpected, subtle gruffness that testified to the singer’s maturity. While the group proved their creative abilities on their first LP, the newly released Europe shows us a band committed to continued growth and artistic development.
The most noticeable evidence of the band’s evolution since their debut effort can be found in the sound. Twangy guitars a la the Byrds pepper several tracks, especially the first two songs “Neil Armstrong” and “Capricornia.” Allo Darlin’ have always transcended the “low-fi” aesthetic often associated with indie pop, but Europe sounds especially sonically competent. The production has a bright edge to it, and several tracks testify to the group’s use of the studio as an instrument. “Capricornia,” for instance, ends with overdriven electric guitars and washed-out white noise. The pedal steel and tremolo-laden guitars on “Some People Say” give the song a slightly downhome country feel.
Lyrically, Morris still utilizes some of the familiar, gleeful twee tropes, yet a darker edge often creeps in. There’s a welcome heavy dose of cynicism amongst the talk about contentment in the mundane moments of everyday life. Lines like, “This is life, this is living” and “We’re on our way headed for the sunshine/ I’ve got you and a bottle of wine … I have a feeling that this day will be amazing” are juxtaposed with “They could name a star after you/ And you’d still be complaining” and “I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that’ll mean something.” Morris intelligently communicates both the innocent feelings of pure joy and the more complex skepticism that comes with experience.
Allo Darlin’ finds its strength in simplicity. The album falters a bit when the group tries to stretch out the compositions. A few tunes, “The Letter,” for example, feature longer instrumental passages that lose the listener. Most of the time, there’s not much happening from a melodic standpoint at these moments. We’re left with just the rhythm section repeating the same chord progression. A lead solo, or at least an instrumental melody, in these spots would create more interest and drive the tune forward. Fortunately, this London quartet is still young and they have plenty of time to develop. They’ve already proven their ability to transcend the negative connotations of “twee.”