10 Track, LP (2012, HUB/Inertia)
Related: Dappled Cities.
Dappled Cities are a band worth rooting for. Having the temerity to build a career out of smart, assured pop music without bending in the direction of the nearest splinter-genre über-craze is impressive. Sustaining that career over the course of four albums, in defiance of the hype/backlash/everyone-starts-a-solo-project cycle that claims every second decent young band in the country, feels nothing short of miraculous.
Lake Air plays to the band’s strengths, namely melody and arrangement: the grooves are kept spare and the guitars sit back, contenting themselves with rhythmic, textural details. There’s plenty of room afforded for melodic payoff in the form of Ned Cooke’s sweeping synth leads and Dave Rennick and Tim Derricourt’s giddy falsettos. When the band stray from this template, it is merely by degree, as with squelchy, synth-driven highlight ‘Real Love’ and the all-tension, no-release closer, ‘The Weekend’.
One gets the distinct impression that the psychic weight of 2009’s Zounds has been lifted; where that felt like a self-conscious ‘breakthrough’ album, Lake Air feels like the work of a band that is comfortable with itself and its place in the pecking order. Many of the experimental flourishes that marked Zounds are still present, but they are confined – used for strategic effect rather than for sonic and emotional ballast. The result is an album full of light and propulsion, but with enough aural surprises to keep things pleasingly strange.
Much like Dappled Cities themselves, though, the question mark on Lake Air is whether they’re not just a bit too clever for this whole pop caper. When does consistency of approach become shtick? For all their intelligence and economy, when do Derricourt’s and Rennick’s lyrics ever hit you in the gut? I’m no advocate of three chords and the truth, but at points on Lake Air one wonders if there’s any substance under all the Wizz Fizz.
This is exemplified by their curious habit of stretching those elastic falsetto hooks over ever-more-tangled chord progressions as their songs progress. Such a compositional show of strength, however impressive, dilutes the sugar rush of songs like ‘Love Connection’, ‘Work in the Mould’ and ‘Born at the Right Time’.
Still, it feels churlish to complain that a pop band is too clever when empty, cloud-tickling monumentalism rules the zeitgeist. The presence of such craft and humour makes for a welcome change, and indiedom – whatever that means today – should be grateful to have Dappled Cities around.
Listen to 'Lake Air':
by Edward Sharp-Paul