The Brunettes: Structure and Cosmetics (Lil' Chief/Rhythmethod)

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The Brunettes: Her Hairagami Set
The Brunettes: Structure and Cosmetics (Lil' Chief/Rhythmethod)

The quirky and sometimes playful pop of Auckland's Brunettes gets a real workout here: whether it be enjoying the left speaker/right speaker game on Stereo (Mono Mono); referencing Tommy James and the Shondells' 60s hit Crimson and Clover on their delicate Credit Card Mail Order; offering a title such as Obligatory Road Song; or simply bending melodies like origami paper in order to create their oddly shaped but quite perfect little pop masterpieces.

There is something disarmingly charming in a song which says "if you were an alien, I'd call you my Martian man" and, in being supported a lovely tune, it rises above the twee factor.

That said, there is also a slightly more introspective tone throughout this album -- perhaps as a result of being recorded in part in Portland, New York and Los Angeles, and that the protagonists (Jonathan Bree and Heather Mansfield) are no longer a couple?

As regards the latter, it certainly hasn't changed the fact they make helium-injected pop full of lyrical whimsy (the gorgeous Small Town Crew, If You Were Alien, the title track) and delicately realised on piano, glockenspiel, melodica, clarinet as well as guitars, synths and drums.

Bree and Mansfield have often played off each other in songs which are dialogues but here they do that with great confidence: that speaker play takes nerve and could have been a crashing embarrassment had it been overdone.

And on the more brooding Wall Poster Star they come off like a post-teenage Whose Afraid of Virgina Woolf? as played by a very polite Ken and Barbie.

It might be the smartest song they have written. Although that compliment could also go to the title track, a kind of Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood shadowplay full of the menace of love fading behind the illusions of happiness.

Yes, mature and intelligent indeed. But that song is at the far end of an album which opens with the handclap pop-rock of Brunettes Against Bubblegum Youth ("b-a-b-y, I love to call you baby"). This album is quite a journey but each port of call is a self-contained world in itself.

In Wall Poster Star they sing, "cute and contrived, sure. But don't think it untrue". You have to agree.

Utterly engaging pop, with many twists.

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