It’s whimsical and it’s buoyant, but Granddance proves to be more sheen than substance.
The Arcade Fire must have been delighted to discover that their style of indie-rock has become the hippest thing in mid-noughties music. Being hip gave them a legitimate reason to do what any self-respecting artist usually does: brood. Their latest album is just too gloomy for words, the mostly black album cover actually being one of the least dark aspects of the record. An ignorant bystander would have been baffled to discover that their 2004 album Funeral is actually their most cheerful release.
But it’s not just Montreal’s finest who are resolved to spend 2007 with frowns on their faces. The emo genre is a given, but the majority of rock musicians are now so keen on being dark that it almost feels incongruent to listen to contemporary music in the daytime. Even the summery quirks of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s debut were replaced with songs like ‘Love Song No. 7’, probably the coldest name for a single around.
But thankfully Dappled Cities Fly have arrived, apparently before the Polyphonic Spree decide that they should all dye their robes black and make Tim DeLaughter’s surname ironic. From Sydney, Australia, Dappled Cities Fly aren’t worried about brooding, and they’re all the better for it. They are drawn from the same pot as bands like the Arcade Fire and CYHSY, but their music is garnished with whimsy rather than bleakness. Perhaps Dappled Cities Fly can get away with their buoyant indie-rock while others can’t simply because singer Tim Derricourt can slip into a falsetto effortlessly. Nowhere is this more obvious than ‘Vision Bell’, where falsetto and normal vocals are traded line for line, before breaking into a brief but lovely My Morning Jacket-style chorus.
The album’s opener, ‘Holy Chord’ would be what the Flaming Lips would record if they were feeling really chilled out -- and if Wayne Coyne was a technically proficient singer. Perhaps that’s why the Lips have taken Dappled Cities Fly under their wing. ‘Work It Out’ features vaudevillian orchestration in the background, and the band gets away with it through the subtlety of the backing arrangement. Throughout the whole album the sounds are very clean, allowing Derricourt’s voice to take the forefront. Likewise, ‘The Eve the Girl’ is a pleasant slice of Britpop -- slick, memorable, and mild -- but with enough quirks to still seem fresh. It’s difficult to know if Australian audiences will appreciate one of their own singing in an English accent.
The lead single is a disappointment, however. ‘Fire Fire Fire’ is a backwards step, a by-the-numbers mainstream rock song that no amount of falsetto vocals will forgive. It’s just all too obvious. And the title track of the album, despite its Frankie Valli-esque backing vocals and overall sheen, is just too lackluster in the songwriting department. And despite the joyous drumming, ‘Colour Coding’ isn’t greater than the sum of its many parts.
In the end, Granddance has the effect of a really strong mint. It is fresh, agreeable, and cleanses the palate. But it doesn’t offer anything substantial, and it isn’t particularly satisfying. At times the album feels so slick and overproduced that there is no emotion in the music. It may be light-hearted and whimsical, but there’s no depth behind it. There are plenty of good tracks on the record, but nothing great or even particularly memorable. When in comes down to it, Granddance is nothing more than a pleasant diversion from life.