The Brunettes: Structure & Cosmetics

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Here's my review of The Brunettes album released today.

Structure & Cosmetics

THE BRUNETTES

Sub Pop

You could argue that subversive pop music is an oxymoron, but listening to The Brunettes' Structure & Cosmetics might just make you buy that contradictory term.

The Brunettes’ Wall of Sound bends. We hear a Spectorian colossus of guitar, drums, piano, organ, sax, backing vocals, etc. Then the traditional instrumentation gives way to spacey synth runs that recall 1980s radio songs and fuzzy guitars reminiscent of Velvet Underground. Structure & Cosmetics is at turns pensive and playful. Those turns often take place within the same song.

The Brunettes are Heather Mansfield and Jonathan Bree. The female/male duo from New Zealand share lead vocals and harmonize. They both play scads of instruments. The disc also includes five additional musicians singing and performing everything from trumpet to lap steel. Bree produced the album and wrote the bulk of the songs.

Which brings us back to this whole business of this being a subversive pop record. It’s not like there are any dissident sounds here — just slight manipulations of very conventional structures. Bree’s lyrics are what make this disc delightfully seditious. Take for instance, the delicate, lithe pop ditty “Small Town Crew.” It features Mansfield’s delicate, lithe pop vocals. But the words are at once vague and penetrating: “You said you liked my songs /If only I could have you here/ I’d love to smack you around the room/ Noted that they’re too self conscious and wordy.”

3.5 stars

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