The term `cure the kinks’ could mean an attempt to salve ailments in the joints if spoken by an old timey person like Grampa Simpson. It could also represent a meeting of two distinct bands playing distinct types of music from two distinctly different decades. It is the latter that best describes Los Angeles by way of San Francisco band Irving. The band, on their long awaited sophomore full-length, Death in the Garden, Blood on the Flowers, traverse from ’80s new wave pop mastery to the eclectic ’60s sounds of the Beatles and the Kinks, and back to the now with smart and hip songwriting bolstered by the masterful production work of Phil Ek, Aaron Espinoza and Jim Fairchild. That being said, this is finally one of the first Ek helmed albums I’ve heard that doesn’t sound like Built to Spill! The varied sound might be thanks to the fact that all five members act as singer/songwriters.
Lead off track “The Gentle Preservation of Children’s Minds,” besides having the word reference to the Kinks’ classic album, is the perfect example of the blend of styles I’m talking about. Shins like jangly guitars clash with 80’s era keyboards and a pitchless lead vocal complemented with `summer of love’ style harmonic backing vocals. “She’s Not Shy” is what you might get if the Killers had a sense of history beyond Duran Duran and were void of pretension. In other words, Irving is able to both sit alongside Franz Ferdinand on modern rock radio and also stand out on its own as a singular songwriting force. “Jen, Nothing Matters to Me” continues in the same vein, with its slow, dramatic and romantic delivery reminding one of some of the Cure’s biggest radio hits a la “Just Like Heaven.” The first half of this album, in fact, reminded me of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack. As opposed to most of John Hughes’ film soundtracks, PiP was moodier, edgier and darker, with the snarling bite of Richard Butler on the title track and Ian McCulloch bookcasing it with the lovely yet disturbing “Bring on the Dancing Horses.” Some of Irving’s songs have the same feel, and I mean that as the utmost compliment.
Songs like “I’ll Write the Song, You Sing for Me” are representative of the clever lyrics that reside throughout the album as a whole. This `breakup’ song brings the modern relationship into the light with lyrics like “If tomorrow morning is the last time that we’ll be together / then I want you to admit that you were wrong when you said forever.” “Situation” is the song the band is currently hawking as the single and video, and rightly so. It is probably the most straightforward ’60s throwback on the record with late Beatlesque backup vocals and the pop sensibilities of all the bands that followed in their wake (read: Fountains of Wayne). Successive songs call to mind the Velvet Underground, the Who, and the Zombies. Final song “The Look of Flowers that Are Looked At” would make fans of Elliott Smith and the Shins stand up and take notice.
Every song on Death in the Garden carries with it a sense of fun and whimsy. It’s as if Belle & Sebastian and Robert Smith grew up in England in the ’60s and formed a band. Do you get the sense that Irving cannot be summed up in any one genre or any one comparison? It’s amazing enough to even attempt to blend all these styles, still another to do it as well as Irving end up doing, making it all seem effortless and seamless. Death in the Garden, Blood on the Flowers is a beautiful piece of work, being a pop collage with pieces from every decade, that will I’m sure eventually lead to the adjective `Irvingesque.’
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