You might expect a New Pornographers side project to share volumes more in common with its kith and kin—contemporary indie ensembles that produce familiarly controlled raucousness—than with acts like Electric Light Orchestra. If that’s the case, you missed the debut of Todd Fancey’s (New Pornographers’ guitarist) efforts outside that band, an album and project eponymous with the man himself. And, if beyond expecting a renewed dose of the sound particular to ongoing trends, you earnestly hope for more of the same from his musical endeavors, then Fancey’s second album, Schmancey, will continue the disappointment offered by his first.
On the other hand, if Fancey’s expedition into capricious, ’70s-styled pop was too short for you, then Schmancey once again turns the keys of the refurbished VW van that the former left lazily parked in the driveway. That isn’t to say Schmancey doesn’t cover any new ground; yes, the candied “Oohs” and pirouetting synths of the opener, “Witches Night,” suggest the unrepentant schmaltz you might expect from tunes so wholeheartedly borrowing from the ’70s. Yes, this saccharine expectation was largely fulfilled by the predecessor to this album. But even amid a flurry of almost mawkish pleasantness, tracks like this, “Bitter Life” and “Karma’s Out to Get Me” represent a distinct break from the thematic material Fancey already explored.
Sure, the awkward, apparently out-of-place pedal steel has returned to perplex in a few tracks, and the Beach Boys-esque lilting is, of course, here to stay. But the ways in which Fancey’s sophomore effort continues the tone of his debut mostly serve to accentuate those in which it is a clear departure: The drugged haze of “Blue Star” is anything but out of the ordinary—a fact that makes the “Christian eagles of today” in “Heaven’s Way” even more unexpected. The production values are still incredible, with elaborate tracks like “Call” flaunting extensive studio wizardry—leaving the sparser melodies on the album feeling elegantly simple, if not nearly bare.
Ultimately, Schmancey is most successful where it keeps one foot in both worlds; as a concerted attempt at recapturing the super pop sound of the ’70s, it falls short, and it has borrowed too much from that decade to thrive as an expressly original production. But where it allows itself to be shaped by its influences, and where it innovates new territory for the loaned, confident happiness to explore, it performs splendidly.
Electric Light Orchestra – Electric Light Orchestra
Sloan – Navy Blues
The Essex Green – Everything Is Green