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The Lemon Twigs

From the enigmatic Roy Wood to prolific acts like The Byrds, the rock music of the ‘60s and ‘70s has come to define The Lemon Twigs’ latest project.

02 May 2024, 18:30 | Words by Camryn Teder

On their sixth album A Dream Is All We Know, The Lemon Twigs pay tribute to the lush, layered sounds of bygone eras.

The last album by The Lemon Twigs, made up of New York-based brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario, was an honest, sober reflection on reality. Filled with melancholy ballads and layered acoustic numbers, Everything Harmony unpacked the double-edged nature of things like luck and love, and reflected a much more pensive side of the brothers compared to much of their previous works. (With tracks like “Every Day is The Worst Day of My Life”, the song titles speak for themselves.) “Everything Harmony definitely did feel kind of more true to life,” Brian says, explaining that on the new album, they “wanted to do something really fun.”

Almost exactly a year after that last record, the brothers are revisiting the sounds of some of their earliest projects, like 2016’s Do Hollywood, on their latest album A Dream Is All We Know, catapulting listeners back into the exuberant realms of rock and roll. The brothers wanted to hold onto what people loved about their last album for this project, like its innate dreaminess, but have dropped the heavy acoustic numbers and allowed the soundscape to expand vibrantly. In the luminous “Church Bells”, for example, Brian switches between a cello, mandolin, and trumpet, and there are two drum sets featured in “How Can I Love Her More?” between buzzing theremins, a harpsichord, horns, and strings.

“People had a generally good response to the last record, and we were aware of the fact that we were doing a kind of a 180,” Michael says. “But we felt like we could pick up on why people liked it. I think it had more to do with production values and chords and harmonies and performance, rather than style. I think that that's why people appreciate it, because of the textures and the layers, and the attention to detail. We tried to bring all of that to this album, but to just have a different energy.”

Recorded entirely in analog form, A Dream Is All We Know is an ode to the more whimsical, joyous sides of life, and the bright sounds of 1968 that the brothers grew up on. Reflecting popular genres of the time like power pop and progressive rock, the songs on the album are triumphant and wistful. Featuring decadent 12-string guitars interlaced with stacked vocal harmonies, the project is orchestral in its density, spiritual in its melodic complexities and meditative in its moments of simplicity. The brothers coined the term “Merseybeach” to describe the lavish sound from the album: a combination of the Merseybeat genre and the harmonies of classic California rock groups like the Beach Boys – that carefree, 1968 sound.

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The Lemon Twigs grew up on the sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and their admiration for these eras has not only shaped A Dream Is All We Know, but has been propelling them forward since the beginning. “It was the first music we ever loved, and it's what we always go back to,” says Brian. “We grew up on it the same way that people who actually lived through those years as children and teens grew up on it – We never were exposed to music of our time, basically because of our parents, so it just always feels natural for us to write with a sixties or seventies pop arrangement in mind.”

The brothers have merged modern ideas with techniques of the past to create something entirely new on the new album, which was recorded by the brothers in analog format in their Brooklyn studio, further cementing that classic 1968 sound. (One exception is “In The Eyes Of The Girl,” which was co-produced by Sean Ono Lennon in his New York studio.) While their other projects have usually featured some analog and digital recordings, this project was done entirely analog. “I think it gives it a more glued-together, compressed sound doing it that way,” Michael says. “It's a little bit more rugged. There was a lot more utilisation of bust compression and over-compression as an effect too, as opposed to the last record, which was very much a natural, clean sound. This is much more manipulated.”

According to Michael, opting for those more raw techniques really helps to complete the picture. “We use analog as a vehicle because we think that it was kind of a big part of [the sound of 1968] and people maybe miss that,” Michael said. “It feels timeless.”

“It was almost to be unabashed about channelling the ‘60s sound,” says Michael of the new record. “We fully immersed ourselves in what we really love and think is the greatest music, which happens to be that ‘60s, ‘70s kind of stuff.” Four albums in particular from those eras influenced the sound for A Dream Is All We Know, and Roy Wood’s albums Boulders and Mustard were two of the biggest inspirations.

"After getting into the Roy Wood stuff, I was so inspired by him playing the strings and horns on his records that I wanted to get back into that. Stylistically, he was a big influence,” Brian says. Michael echoes those sentiments, highlighting one track in particular. “On Boulders, I think ‘Dear Elaine’ is probably my favourite song on that album.” They also cite “The Rain Came Down” and “Any Old Time Will Do” as other favourites from those albums.

Aside from the instrumental complexity of Roy Wood’s projects, the brothers also channelled The Byrds' trademark sound throughout the album too. With their rich soundscapes filled with 12-string guitars, dynamic rhythms, and layered vocal harmonies, the 1968 album The Notorious Byrd Brothers was an especially big influence for A Dream Is All We Know, with the brothers citing the track “Going Back” as a personal favourite off that record. “I think texturally, all of those albums kind of line up with the record that we've made in terms of just instrumentation. Obviously with The Byrds, there's a lot of 12-string on this record, and kind of sporadic orchestration here and there,” Michael said.

The Swedish rock group Tages’ album Studio was another record Brian dubs as a big reference point, for their songwriting process especially. “With the Tages record, there's very ambitious arrangements on it, especially the orchestral arrangements. It's very energetic and it’s kind of always changing within a two-and-a-half to three minute pop structure. It's very instantaneous,” he says.

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Looking beyond the musical heritage that helped shape this project’s sound, much of A Dream Is All We Know comes from personal experiences. In reference to “Church Bells”, Michael said he based the lyrics around a close relationship. “I wrote that in my apartment on the Upper West Side. It's real close to Riverside Park, and my girlfriend works in Jersey which is across the river. So, it was kind of like, just right on the nose,” he says.

With intentional recording techniques, thoughtful lyrics and unique instrumentation, A Dream Is All We Know is a stacked record. Because this project was so different from the last, it leaves us wondering, what sound will the brothers go for next? “We're interested in mixing the upbeat aspect of this record with the space of the last, and I think we did a good job of leaving space in the last record,” Michael says. Brian adds that they’d also like to explore a more “straight-ahead rock format.”

The Lemon Twigs are always embarking on new projects, with an innate passion to evolve which stems from a simple desire to keep getting better and stay true to themselves. “I think it’s about just wanting to make music that we're more and more satisfied with as time goes on,” says Brian. Michael adds, “Yeah, to have every song be something that we can, if we heard it on the radio, be proud of.”

A Dream Is All We Know is out 3 May via Captured Tracks. Find The Lemon Twigs on Instagram.

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