On, off and then on again, in that fractured career pattern that typifies the longer-serving bands, The Posies have, since the mid 1980s, been bringing us their deceptively effortless-sounding songs of love and life, wrapped up with some offbeat observations, arresting metaphors (“frosting on the beater” anyone?) and some of the most gorgeous, sunshine-drenched vocal harmonies this side of the Beach Boys.
In our recent interview with them, the band’s Ken Stringfellow told us that he thinks that this – studio album number seven – is “what we’ve been working towards all these years“; and with old rifts healed and the creative partnership of Stringfellow and Jon Auer very much back in full effect, that might not be too bold a claim.
At least two different ‘types’ of songs can be found here. Complex, intricate tracks (both lyrically and musically) that switch around in style, sound and melody (‘Licenses To Hide’, ‘For The Ashes’, ‘Accidental Architecture’) are offset by the simpler likes of ‘Glitter Prize’ and ‘So Caroline’. If it is in the latter that fans from the band’s earlier days will hear most that they recognise (the gentle, dreaming quality of the vocal; the instant-earworm melodies), it is perhaps the inclusion of the former that adds depth, weight and a longer-lasting resonance to the album.
‘For The Ashes’ opens with elegiac Let-It-Be piano, and is a moving contemplation of mortality – “Some day I’m gonna wake up dead I know / My breath released into the open sky“; while ‘Accidental Architecture’ too has both Beatles and Beach Boys musical references as well as a stunning set of different segments which vary musically, rhythmically, stylistically while still maintaining sufficient coherence to hold together as one track. ‘Licenses To Hide’, meanwhile, with guest vocal from Broken Social Scene’s Lisa Lobsinger, is practically a mini Rock Opera rolled up into a 4 minute pop song.
On the other hand, the effectiveness and straightforward rock/pop pleasure of ‘Oh Caroline’ is also a highlight. This is unshowy, gentle and fundamentally warm-hearted stuff which – along with ‘Glitter Prize’ and ‘Notion 99′ – serves as a reminder of just what gifted songwriters Auer and Stringfellow remain, and how lightly they (and their songs) wear their song crafting skills.
The lyrics touch on the usual themes of love and romance (‘Plastic Paperbacks’, ‘Glitter Prize’, ‘Licenses To Hide’), either with a youthful / teenage slant (“When will you stop those adolescent trends?”) or with a wiser looking-back-on-it-all perspective. References to casualties along the way – from ‘Take Care’ with its damaged protagonist cutting “into your arms” to the incredibly moving ‘She’s Coming Down’ (“What a shitty way to end a life) – are more regretful and elegiac than angry or bitter: this is not music that would lend itself to a protracted depiction of bitterness.
This band has a clear love of the way certain words sound when combined, and lovely couplets like “What dynamic could feel the damage“, “… the glow and the glee“, “Brittle remains of the wide-open plains” and most of all “stucco ceiling with stars” [just try saying this out loud for an idea of how well it works] are included, and delivered, with obvious relish.
Often simply and lazily described as “powerpop”, The Posies have always been so much more. Later on in that TLOBF interview Stringfellow describes their sound as “modern, brainy, melodic, literate etc. indie rock“, which is a better approximation. On this album, though, they demonstrate just how varied, diverse, beautifully crafted and deceptively complex a band can become, while still somehow producing songs that speak to - no: lift – the heart.