Friday, October 23, 2009

... and getting gorgeous with The Crayon Fields' "Animal Bells"

After such a dark and dingy voyage into home-grown music yesterday, with Rowland S Howard, it just had to be a sign from god today that Marty W mentioned another local band for me to listen to – one which, as fate would have it, is filled with sunshine and light. And so what else could I possibly do but head out during my lunch break and buy The Crayon Fields’ 2006 album Animal Bells? I did buy some more drone noise, and the latest album of the Fuck Buttons, for a bit of balance, but that’s totally beside the point.

I had never heard of the Melbourne-based Crayon Fields before today, but a quick internet search showed me that pretty well everyone draws comparisons with The Zombies (who I had also never heard of) and with The Beach Boys (even I have heard of them).

Animal Bells is certainly very beachy, very boysy, and very Beach Boysy – but all in the best possible way. It is cruisy music, filled with soft, whispered harmonies, mellow, laid-back melodies, and rich but unobtrusive instrumentation that makes you just long for summer, a gin and tonic, and a deck chair by the beach.

The songs on Animal Bells are unashamedly dreamy, flagrantly happy. Toy bells add their bit of sparkle to each track, turning wine into champagne. Melodies and rhythms blend like ice-cream and chocolate topping.

The music is gorgeously unpretentious – but don’t think for a moment that that means it’s unskilled or simplistic. Everything here is so exposed – from the ravishing harmonies of the vocals to the clean and unadorned pluckings on the acoustic guitar and the glittering dance of the percussion. Every note has to be perfectly placed and perfectly played – and it is.

Each track has its own special use of colour, its own subtly unique way of shining the sun on you: the jaunty, jumping rhythms of the vocal line in ‘Living So Well’; the way ‘Back, Front, Side, Low, High’ slips so easily from major to minor and back, making darkness no more threatening than a walk in the shade on a hot day; the pulsating, whirring electronics of ‘Helicopters’; the way that ‘Lovely Time’ strolls merrily along one minute, skips along the next; the handclaps the push things along in ‘Impossible Things’; the jangling pentatonic percussion that gives ‘Do It First’ an almost oriental feel; the way that ‘Drains’ seems to wave farewell to you, with a smile on its face, a tear in its eye and, just when you think it’s gone, it turns around and waves to you again.

Animal Bells has a real childlike innocence to it – the sort of innocence that you never really totally outgrow: the sort that makes you realise that you can still smile, no matter how bad and mean people like Rowland S Howard tell you the world is.

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