The Mary Onnetes
The Mary Onettes have strayed.
The Swedish band’s self-titled debut doubled, seamlessly, as ‘80s jangle-pop. If you didn’t know it was new, you might have gone crate digging for some dollar vinyl. Think The Church or The Cure circa “Just Like Heaven”. Heavy on pedigree and long on nostalgia, but it wasn’t as if the band had merely aped the sound to tap into an easy pre-existing audience. The music had depth and an appreciation for its enduring formula. A good hook fueled by jangly guitar, a touch of synth and a dollop of angst.
Since that 2007 full-length debut, the Mary Onettes have increasingly become their own band, still rooted in that mid-‘80s garden of delights, but remaining modern. On their latest record, Portico:, the best tracks reflect the marriage of modern indie-pop with Reagan-era melancholy. “Naïve Dream” again taps into The Cure before spinning off in a direction that recalls the Shout Out Louds and School of Seven Bells. Granted the leap crosses no great sonic chasms, but the shift isn’t always as seamless. For example, “Silence Is a Gun” shows the ragged edges of their evolution to become something more than an ‘80s band that got lost on their way to 2014.
Their aspirations are noble, and I find myself nostalgic for their pitch perfect debut; a record that displayed a sound that was almost too perfect, too complete for a first release. In certain respects, the growth of the Mary Onettes makes Portico: sound like a more traditional debut: rough around the edges and endearing in its imperfections. No matter how far the band strays it’ll always have that anchor in another place and time, comforting listeners with a fuzzy brand of earnest familiarity.
This brief seven-track LP ends just when it seems destined for a crescendo. “Bells For A Stranger” or “Portico: 2014” could easily soundtrack a love scene for a late-‘80s film starring Eric Stoltz with blustery curtains and close-ups of hands grabbing bed sheets. The latter track, in particular, demonstrates some lush orchestration and sweeping, melodic synth. But like the album as a whole, it all ends a bit early and leaves us wanting that last fist pump into the sky as the credits roll.
James David Patrick (Twitter @30hertzrumble)