For a while there, it seemed as if Ivy was Adam Schlesinger’s “real” band. Though there’s no arguing that Fountains of Wayne aren’t great power-pop songwriters, Ivy just seemed more serious, albeit rife with similarly infectious pop sensibilities, clearly the result of sharing a songwriter. They didn’t have any songs about Laser Floyd, getting tattooed, losing your girl to a biker or falling in love with your pal’s mom. Not that they weren’t lighthearted in all the right places. They just seemed more straight-faced, more together and produced with just the right amount of gloss. Listen to Apartment Life and you’ll hear just how perfect pop music can sound. But alas, it seems as if Fountains of Wayne hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, they’re even more successful than before. And yet, somehow, Schlesinger has found a way to devote even more time to Ivy. In the Clear marks the band’s fourth proper full-length, not counting covers albums, and the band doesn’t show any signs of slowing.
Ivy, on average, seems to release an album every three or four years, shifting styles slightly each time. On Apartment Life they had firmly established themselves as classy, cosmopolitan popsters, while Long Distance saw them attempting trip-hop, to less successful ends. But In the Clear could, arguably, be considered a return to form for the band. Though some of the electronics and lighter-than-air downtempo numbers haven’t evaporated altogether, the sleeker guitar pop side of the band is clearly the Ivy that’s in charge here.
The beginning track, “Nothing But the Sky,” may lead you to believe that this album hasn’t extended beyond the sound of Long Distance, as it’s so light and airy, it seems ready to take flight, though the dense layers of guitars and solid structure keep it firmly grounded. The next track, “Thinking About You.” is where things start to get more exciting. Schlesinger and songwriting partner Andy Chase take their breezy sound and add on some power-pop muscle, and, of course, the ultra-cool vocals of Dominique Durand. “Tess Don’t Tell” is equally powerful and catchy, while “Four in the Morning” builds from a track similar in density to t “Nothing But the Sky,” gradually building into a stronger, heftier piece of power-pop. “Corners of Your Mind” is short and kitschy, while “Clear My Head” uses layers of effects-laden guitars to a more trippy effect.
By the end of the record, the more confident, guitar pop Ivy seems to fizzle in favor of a slower, electronic sound which is pleasant, but forgettable. However “Feel So Free” is a strong closer, despite the less impressive pair of tracks that lead up to it. But soft and pleasant will always make a more preferable alternative to obnoxious and over-produced. Thankfully, Ivy is neither of these. They’re just as cool and catchy as they’ve always been, even if they had a minor mis-step a few years back. In the Clear is exactly what pop music should be, but rarely is.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.