Experience has taught us that when Rob Morgan (@durutti74) is inspired by music to want to write about it then it has to be pretty special. On this occasion it’s the latest album from The Proper Ornaments that had him reaching for the Mont Blanc.
As we’ve come to expect from Rob, it’s a terrific read and a top review of a super album. So please read, listen and enjoy….
The Proper Ornaments
Tough Love Records
Technical glitches can be a real pain sometimes. I had this review fully written and ready to send to EIO40 HQ this morning when I thought I would make one small amendment – and managed to delete the entire document, except for the opening paragraph. So here I am rewriting it from scratch with the memory of what was originally there in my mind and trying to make sure it matches that standard or improves on it.
In a way this is ironic as this is what happened to the album I’m reviewing, “Foxhole” by The Proper Ornaments. The band had recorded the whole album before realising that there was some technical glitch which made the entire recording unusable except for one song. Necessity thus proved the mother of invention, the whole album was rerecorded simply and quickly and is now available for you to enjoy.
The Proper Ornaments were formed by James Hoare (Veronica Falls, Ultimate Painting) and Max Oscarnold (Toy) and they issued their debut album “Wooden Head” in 2014. Whereas that album was a warm blend of fuzzy guitars with nods to Teenage Fanclub, Stereolab and 60s sunshine pop, the new album – recorded on Hoare’s eight track home recording unit – eschews the overdriven guitars and concentrates on chiming clean guitar arpeggios, lovely harmonies, simple arrangements and an emphasis on simple piano chords for most of the songs.
As such there are a new set of influences – the hushed ambience of the third Velvet Underground album, the gorgeous songs Gene Clark and David Crosby wrote for the early Byrds albums, those gentle songs Rick Wright wrote for early Pink Floyd albums – and more contemporary sounds too, I hear echoes of early Kingsbury Manx, Beachwood Sparks, Radar Bros and other bands who who create their own take on pastoral psychedelia.
The album starts bright and breezy with the opener “Back Pages” (nice nod to Dylan and the Byrds there) and the supposedly cheerful “Cremated (Blown Away)” before moving into a mid tempo melancholy groove which remains for most of the rest of the album.
Mostly the songs are short – only “Memories” expands beyond the five minute mark as it moves through numerous changes and sections. Re-recording the album on a limited number of tracks has forced the band to remove layers of excess and concentrate on what makes the music matter most – there is no room for extraneous overdubbing, allowing the songs room to breath. This could be a disaster but the songs stand up to the scrutiny well, every song has melodic hooks which sink in quickly and small changes to the arrangements can be as powerful as a hundred overdubs. For instance “The Frozen Stare” has such a spare arrangement that the addition of electric guitar arpeggios during the coda expands the sound in a magnificent way – simple yet potent.
This is an album which doesn’t need to shout loudly to make its point, and over time the lyrical motifs will become apparent. Many songs have a melancholy air, looking back on a half remembered past and trying to make sense of the present – songs like “Just A Dream” and “When We Were Young” are wistful remembrances. The key song here is “Jeremy’s Song”, where interlocking cycles of acoustic guitars back a repeated mantra of “Cry but don’t speak, don’t move at all, keep your head down in the foxhole”. Are they hiding from the harsh reality of modern day living? Who knows? Maybe I read too much into these things.
On the other hand there are songs like “1969” which appears to be about the moon landings which again surprises with a delightful descending keyboard part on the chorus, and “I Know You Know” which adds a slight country edge which harks back to the Stones-ish vibe of “Give Out…” era ballads by Primal Scream. The album closer “The devil” sounds like it was recorded in a school assembly (utilising Phil Spector’s School Hall Of Sound?) and ends the album with an upbeat feel, adding a small piano doodle at the end which is quite lovely.
The Proper Ornaments know that brevity is an asset – eleven songs swing by in thirty seven minutes and the melodies and moods linger long in the memory after each listen. This is an album which rewards multiple plays – each listen will reveal new little details and pleasures, with plenty of melodic twists and unexpected chord changes. Simplicity is its strength, a triumph from possible disastrous circumstances.
There isn’t a bad song on this album and the Proper Ornaments have created this year’s first essential listen. It is the perfect soundtrack for winter days and nights – place it on the shelf next to these other winter albums “More Sad Hits” by Damon and Naomi, “Songs For The Sad Eyed Girl” by Biff Bang Pow! and “Ask Me Tomorrow” by Mojave 3.
This album deserves to be heard, let it infiltrate your life and it will reward you with haunting melodies and thoughtful words which will stay with you a long time. Highly recommended.
You can purchase “Foxholes” at the Proper Ornaments Bandcamp page and you can also discover more about them at these links
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob writes about music and other less important subjects at his blog A Goldfish Called Regret (agoldfishcalledregret.wordpress.com) and also creates podcasts for Goldfish Radio (https://m.mixcloud.com/robmorgan589).
He never achieved his ambition of making a Sarah Record.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading Rob’s review. If you would like to review something new, whether it’s new material or a re-issue then please contact us via email firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @IndieOver40