Selebrities: Lovely Things

[27 June 2013]

By Matt James

Hello Selebrities! Bonjour tristesse! Yes despite coming from the the ‘Party-hearty’ ‘City that never sleeps’ and the hella hipster, bustlin’ borough o’ Brooklyn, there is something resolutely rainy and decadently despondent about Selebrities. Their fuzzy, indie pop début Delusions was curs’d / bless’d – endearingly so - with the doe-eyed, heavy-hearted bedsit melancholia of waif n’ stray, beautiful loser Brits from the 1980s. Y’know, the Smiths, New Order, the Cure et al. Romance. Raincoats. Rimbaud. Macclesfield Miserablism. Albeit channelled through the cherubic, ‘wow n’ flutter’ tones of Maria Usbeck over an indie disco backbeat that at times recalled young Ms. Ciccone as much as Hooky n’ Morris. Now with Delusions cast aside, would the Disney-tastically titled Lovely Things find this quixotic quartet bursting with renewed Tigger bounce? Well, not exactly, as disque deux offers by turns more “Melody” and mo’ “Malady”.

On the “SUNNY DAYS” side of the street we first find, erm, “Found”. An intoxicating introduction rich with dreamy, hypnotic sway. Like much of Lovely Things it’s resplendent with plenty o’ heavenly scented “Woooh! A-ha! Ha” breathless kisses. Maria Usbeck appears as soft parade dancer lost in a fluffy anaesthetised haze, her vocal misty, vaguely European. Recent single “Temporary Touch” proves the first of several ‘Proper Pop Bangers’. Heroic, spidery guitar riffs, gliding new wave bass and hyperpop urgency. “You made me feel the rush…you made me feel the dirt again,” swoons Usbeck, eyes closed, sweetly surrender’d, spinning in fragrant ecstasy. The perfect soundtrack for Andie Walsh’s Pretty in Pink diaries. The adrenalised “Lovers” is equally up for it. Kicking open the cellar door with coffin rattle percussion and choppy ‘bat-in-the-belfry’ Goth guitar it licks some Visage-esque synth sparkle for added glamorama glitter. The “Let’s Go” chorus kicks the pace into space, “I’ll never find another / I’ll never find another one / One like you,” ushers Usbeck. A few deliciously dramatic gasps for air later and the whole shebang-shenanigan ascends into a triumphant 4/4 stompin’ raver. It’s at this precise point one notes Selebrities have quietly become “A bit good at the Pop stuff.” Despite its gravediggers n’ switchblades title “Born Killers” is more about throwing your homework onto the fire and going out to find the one that you love and who loves you. Armed with the perky sparkle n’ bounce of the Wake’s “Pale Spectre” (albeit with black fingernails) and high on “FUCK TOMORROW!” abandon it races… tragically “Into the greatest mistake of our lives!”.

The “HEAVY SHOWERS” side is still pretty good but does discretely deliver the odd sleepytime yawn. “Wither Away” is pure Garbage. The band Garbage that is. Shirley Manson at her most ‘serious face’, drawlin’ moody sourface grumpy. It’s overlong and a ‘birrova’ drag. Kudos for the glass harmonicas though. “You’re Gone” is a stronger shot of sad and carries a torch for the Smiths’ “Girlfriend in a Coma”. Its initially playful patter swiftly leaden with disappointment n’ despair, haunted house harmonies, sullen, beestung lips and smeared mascara. “There are too many problems for us to fix” resigns Usbeck dolefully. “Forged to Be Broken” is another Mozzer mourner for the incoming landslide albeit less memorable. “But now the only truth I know is we’re alone ‘til we die” it imparts, possibly with the soil fallin’ over its head. “Baroque” is properly gorgeous though with ghosts of Julee Cruise’s bewitching “The Nightingale” sailing alongside its lonesome drift. Crystalline synths, shufflin’ drums and the soothing sweep of the mirrorball tide rock gently back n’ forth with a graceful sway. Cut with sorrowful regret and calming “Oooh, oooh” consolation, Usbeck aches “I’m alone in this life.” O the humanity! The best of the heartbreakers though is “Fell to Earth”. Kate Bush out on the moors in the witching hour under a UFO sky. Acapella n’ alien ambience it’s Lovely Thing’s loveliest thing. Poetic and pining with a tearstained trace of “Pachelbel’s Canon”, “When the light came to get you / I lost my sight.” Elegantly ethereal. Lovely Things doesn’t end with a whimper though but a dancer. “I Could Change” is coolly euphoric in Selebrities’ own understated way. It’s New Order’s divine, driving “Ceremony” recast for a midsummer night’s dream. Hungry, lustful, its giddy arms open, raised aloft, stretching toward the healing sun. 

Lovely Things proves Selebrities are getting better at being Selebrities. Their distinct yet familiar brand of romantic ‘80s indie pop is getting harder, better, faster, stronger, and sadder too. But for all the underlying ache, Selebrities clearly understand the life-affirming JOY of pop and this is where Things is particularly Lovely. Despite playing close to the shadows of their influences and thus much here remains cosily familiar, the spirited, sincere Lovely Things still has enough sparkle to make old acquaintances seem shiny n’ new.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/172824-selebrities-lovely-things/