The Lemon Twigs 2024
Photo: Stephanie Pia / Shore Fire

New Album Takes the Lemon Twigs Into Pop’s Golden Years

The Lemon Twigs’ A Dream Is All We Know displays scholarly mastery of the complex techniques their forbears invented. The sheer musicality is prodigious.

A Dream Is All We Know
The Lemon Twigs
Captured Tracks
3 May 2024

The sheer musicality displayed in A Dream Is All We Know, the fifth (or sixth, depending on where you start counting) Lemon Twigs album, is prodigious. Barely a year after releasing the excellent Everything Harmony and touring extensively, brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario have since written 12 new hook-filled, compositionally inventive tracks, including their own string, horn, and dizzyingly dense and complex vocal arrangements. They sing every part—does anything sound sweeter than siblings harmonizing?—and play virtually every instrument on their new album, their own two-man Wrecking Crew (in truth, Brian, the elder brother, played most of them). They produced it themselves in their studio, save for one track produced by Sean Ono Lennon, whose guest appearance, given the Lemon Twigs’ acute Beatlemania, needs no further elaboration.

A Dream Is All We Know sends the D’Addarios deeper into the golden 1960s and 1970s pop territory they’ve been mining since they started as teenagers on Do Hollywood (2016). The influences are all clearly audible: the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and Todd Rundgren come first, followed by Badfinger, Big Star, the Byrds, the Hollies, Merseybeat, the Monkees, the Move, the Raspberries, and Simon & Garfunkel. The record was recorded on circa 1968 vintage equipment to drive the music home. It’s all unassailably and wonderfully echt.

It’s also going to be lost on all but a small portion of the Lemon Twigs’ audience, most of whom will A) listen to this beautifully recorded analog music via compressed digital platforms through earbuds and B) be little versed in the now-ancient source material in which A Dream Is All We Know is anchored. (That the press release renders “McCartney” as “McCarthy” stands as unimprovable evidence.)

These complications add to the onus on these songs to stand on their own, and most of them do. Their twee tone and lighthearted energy, which persist despite the album’s often pensive and wistful lyrical content, mask serious craft and scholarly mastery of the complex techniques the Lemon Twigs’ forbears invented. Riches abound. To name a few: Brian D’Addario’s careful Brian Wilson vocal impressions and his astoundingly accomplished bass writing and playing; the frequent, deceptively ingenious, often off-kilter changes in chords, keys, and meters; the marvelous tones and textures of the guitars; and the incessant cascades of baroque flourishes.

Yet the sunny sounds and rigorous craftwork mask a surprising amount of disaffection and doubt. The very first song on A Dream Is All We Know, “My Golden Years”, worries that those years have already passed, which is no surprise given that the D’Addarios, despite their youth, have been at this for almost a decade. The next track, “They Don’t Know How to Fall in Place”, laments, over a propulsive, clavinet-heavy arrangement, that “Every day is like a memory of someone I knew a thousand years ago [whom] I’ve never heard or seen.” Later, the song invokes “a girl who painted pictures of objects of no particular relevance.”

That line could almost as easily express the D’Addarios’ anxiety about the deeper value of their music. A Dream Is All We Know is a very apt title. The real, the here-and-now, and the fleshly are unknown to the D’Addarios. They’re haunted by fleeting dreams and thoughts, evanescent feelings. While they lament aloud that the golden years of youth are behind them (although one’s mid-20s are far from old, of course), they’re actually yearning for wisdom and depth that are still to come. “I wish that someone would tell me / What my soul knows that I don’t know,” pleads “If You and I Are Not Wise”, a spot-on impression of The Notorious Byrd Brothers. That is why some songs on A Dream Is All We Know don’t quite land. They don’t sound soulless—they’re full of authentic delight in making beautiful music—but somehow a little notional and unfixed: brilliant exercises, but exercises nonetheless.

What will it take for the Lemon Twigs to make the leap from a powerful novelty act to one of the best bands in America? Do we insist that they drop the “thin disguise” (to quote “If You and I Are Not Wise”) of their forbears and come up with something “original”? Do we cruelly wish some terrible misfortune on them so that there’s “pain” in their music (as if there has to be)? Ask them to pump the sex and drugs that have always fueled rock ‘n’ roll into the veins of their songs? Demand that they at least move ahead a few years and genres and start sounding like, say, Kraftwerk or R.E.M.—which the D’Addarios could so easily do that it would probably bore them (and us)?

Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with retro, and that’s why there is so much of it. Just two weeks before the release of A Dream Is All We Know, an EP by Rupert Angeleyes (no, that is not his real name) came out on Record Store Day. Angeleyes’ Pillow Talk is a pleasurable, worthy, Beck-like pastiche of late-1970s grooves, tropes, and beats, all costumed in an appealingly arch sleaziness. Angeleyes lacks Beck’s trenchant sociology and the Lemon Twigs’ musicianship (no shame on either count). Yet he is an excellent example of today’s savvy popsters who understand that dipping their cup into the deep waters of music history is not only creatively easier but also, perhaps, ideologically better than trying to reinvent the pop-rock wheel, which is, in fact, one of the simplest and easiest tools to work in the history of art forms. As Scott Miller, one of the most original musicians of his era, concisely put it, “Originality is unmusical.”

The D’Addarios are so gifted and indefatigable that they might keep doing their vintage pop thing perpetually. Their golden years may be slipping away, but music’s never will. If anything, ur-pop is more present than ever, as the unrelenting recent flux of Beatles runoff into our culture demonstrates. The oldsters who invented and consumed the type of music the Lemon Twigs make are all mostly dead now. Still, perhaps we’ll need permanent ambassadors to generations of young people who might be better served by the Lemon Twigs’ persuasive, untroubled echoes of the dream than by the real thing. The Beatles could get awfully weird, the D’Addario‘s hero Rundgren weirder still. The Lemon Twigs are good-natured normies who are here to entertain, not to challenge.

Like Rundgren, the brothers could pivot to producing, thereby helping legions of rawer, less proficient musicians sound great on their way to mega-stardom. They could go even further and write songs for those lesser folk, too, like Goffin-King or even Kelly-Steinberg. As it stands, the D’Addarios still court the danger—only a small one, to be sure—of resembling less the Wilson or Davies brothers than Dean and Gene Ween: intensely musical and deeply in love with the old pet sounds but still working at least partly in the realm of caricature. Everything Harmony or Pure Guava? Is the dream going to remain all they know, or can the Lemon Twigs gain some particular relevance that can’t be so easily unremembered upon waking?

RATING 7 / 10