[7 July 2014]
The Proper Ornaments’ debut album, Wooden Head, has all the requisite pop culture touchstones. The Velvet Underground? Check. The Jesus and Mary Chain? Check. The Byrds? Checkity-check-check-check. You might also find yourself reaching towards the sounds of the ‘80s Paisley Underground as well. So how much you enjoy Wooden Head hinges upon how much you like those influences, and whether or not they work for you. Happily, though, the Proper Ornaments craft some pretty nifty songs—the band is the result of a chance meeting in a vintage shoe shop in London, where Argentinean guitarist Max Claps hooked up with Veronica Falls’ guitarist Andrew Hoare—and Wooden Head is a properly sterling album with no duff tracks, even if it is a bit stylistically all over the map. There’s much to admire in this sleepy-headed collection of 14 songs, which reference everything from other bands (“Stereolab”) to the weather (“Step Into the Cold”, “Summer’s Gone”, “Sun”). This is an enjoyable collection of tracks, and is the sort of thing you want to lay back and listen to on a hammock, enjoying one of your days off. Wooden Head works, and works remarkably well.
What’s remarkable about this album is that it generally works as a cohesive whole, even if each individual song is stylistically different from each other. While the album makes for a complete piece, the sum of its parts is what makes this LP so interesting. “Gone”, the opening track, is the kind of thing that might slither into your head, with its hushed vocals and overall style of the Jesus and Mary Chain somewhere around Darklands. “Sun”, the next track, seems more akin to a buried Nuggets-era track, and is equally compelling, as different as it may be from what immediately preceded it. And then there’s “Ruby”, which is a downright pastoral slice of English folk rock. It sticks, and gloriously so. This is all followed by the rambunctious “Now I Understand”, which boasts a memorable, almost-country guitar lick. These are the first four songs, and, already, the band has made a commanding statement. And things just continue on in the grooviest fashion from there. “Don’t You Want to Know (What You’re Going to Be)” has a vaguely Teenage Fanclub feel to it, even as it might be way more listless and mellow than said band.
“Magazine”, meanwhile, is a piece of shimmery pop bliss—and could it, too, be a reference to said famous band from which it takes its title? Hard to tell, but you’ll enjoy it nonetheless. Meanwhile, “Stereolab” crashes in with its shimmery guitars and there’s a certain warping to the track’s sound that may make you reach for the tremolo effects used on My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless record. “Step Into the Cold” is anything but cold, with a giddy, upbeat feel to it. It could have been a classic seven-inch from the days of the psychedelic ‘60s, it’s that good. “Tire Me Out” is a lazy, hazy ballad that strums along with its acoustic guitar and organ. “Always There”, meanwhile, has a vintage sound to it that recalls the feel of many a Western movie from days ago. “Summer’s Gone” is another strung out ballad that hits all of the requisite sweet spots. “What Am I To Do?” boasts a slithery guitar line that feels plucked right out of midair. “You Shouldn’t Have Gone” is probably the most droney, Jesus and Mary Chain-influenced moment on the album. “You’ll See” is, finally, a countrified death ballad that is requisitely mid-fi—listen close enough and you’ll hear the tape hiss on this track.
Most of these songs are two or three minutes of pure pop bliss. And, if anything, I might have found an album that my father could like, considering he collected every single album by the Byrds back in the day. This is simply a very enjoyable, summery kind of record that fans of retro-infused sounds will like to immense effect. There might be nothing that is startlingly “new” about Wooden Head, but it is still quite enjoyable, and each song reveals something that you want to take to the rooftops and scream about. This is a blissful collection of songs. Although they don’t quite add up to a whole, they instead play quite well as singles strung together in successive fashion. This is the sort of record that will make you want to lie back and close your eyes, relax and chill out. Plus, there’s a sense of coolness that may enrapture you. This is the sort of thing that you want to smell the shrink wrap on before peeling it back to reveal the songs underneath.
Wooden Head is a propulsive set of deft songwriting, and even if it might be relegated to side-project status, it is very carefully and well constructed, and will make you want to fall in love with music all over again. I cannot be effusive enough in my praise for something that generally hits all the right buttons. Overall, Wooden Head is a sweet concoction of songs, and this is something that might wind up on continuous repeat on your CD or media player. Hardly original, but always something of quality, Wooden Head is a record that you’ll be glad to hear, and, by the end, leaves you wanting more.