The Stress Of Leisure
Hour To Hour
11 Track, LP (2009, Independent)
Related: The Stress Of Leisure.
Every songwriter has influences. Some are easier to spot than others. Brisbane musician Ian Powne figured he would pre-empt that “hang on, this sounds a bit like … ” moment by firmly aligning himself with the “striped sunlight sound” of The Go-Betweens, the indie-rock of Pavement and the sullen whiney pop of Pulp. I know this because he says so in the press release that accompanies Hour To Hour, the second album he’s released under the moniker The Stress Of Leisure (TSOL – hmmm, nice acronym!). It’s a shrewd move, but even if he hadn’t pointed it out, I reckon I would have picked it half-way through the first song.
Which poses a dilemma. How do you judge somebody’s creativity when you are constantly reminded of somebody else’s creativity in the process? My approach is to get over the comparisons and try to listen to the music and lyrics on their own merit. So here goes.
Backed by jangly guitars, melodic bass and unobtrusive drums, Powne’s vocals are pushed to the fore in the classic ’80s guitar pop fashion of recordings by the likes of Lloyd Cole And The Commotions, which would imply that there are pearls of wisdom to be discovered in the lyrics.
Songs alternate between observational narratives, navel-gazing introspection and a string of impressionistic snapshots of contemporary middle-class life. Sometimes, as on the album’s strongest tracks such as ‘What A Lovely Story’ and ‘Tracksuited’, this works well. In contrast, the self-explanatory ‘Blues For Britney’ comes across as trite and obvious. ‘House And Garden’ wraps its pre-brunch existential ruminations in a gorgeous melody. When he generalises about other people, such as the status-driven shop-aholic in ‘Man Doll’, Powne comes across as condescending to those different to himself. What’s the point of observing people without providing an insight into their motivations and desires?
Lyrics aside, TSOL’s real strength lies in crafting classy indie-pop songs, whose subtly elegant melodies and spindly guitar lines certainly stack up well in comparison to their more famous antecedents. I can even forgive Powne for lifting the riff from Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’ for ‘Loneliness, Incidentally’, when he can write a song as utterly fragile and wistful as ‘Alexanderplatz’.
Within reasonably narrow stylistic parameters, there is certainly a lot of variety in instrumentation, sound, tempo and mood on this album. The pared-down production and sparse use of additional instruments actually accentuates this, as it avoids the kind of overblown feel that marred some of the albums Powne’s heroes released mid-career. There is a great flow to this collection of songs that bears repeated listens more than I had initially expected, and while there are no obvious killer choruses or hooks, there are plenty of memorable moments on Hour To Hour.
Yeah, I can see the cardigan kids going for this.
by René Schaefer