This second album from Melbourne, Australia's Lynchpin is packed full of pleasant mid-tempo numbers with heartfelt sentiments. Hand-Picked Words builds on the melodic tendencies of their debut, 2000's Twenty Years, Seven Months & Twenty Seven Days, again providing a full sound that belies the fact that they're only a trio.
Guitarist/lead vocalist Andy Kirkland, drummer Glen King, and bassist Dave Stevens have been together for a decade or so, and the tight sound reflects that long-term togetherness. While their previous effort was lauded in the U.S. and Japan, they've remained a fairly well kept secret in their native Australia. This collection of pretty and well-produced songs should change that.
Shane O'Mara (IceCream Hands) and Richard Pleasance (Paul Kelly, Suzanne Vega) produced and mixed the new one, with mastering by Jonathan Wyner (Aimee Mann, Nirvana). This team has brought a suitably lush feel to the music, while still maintaining an intimacy that serves the songs.
"So Damn Obvious," the album's first single, is a cute, upbeat tale of one who is oblivious to the "head over heel" attentions of a woman he thinks is out of his league. Already this infectious song has gotten airplay on Australian radio and the band has performed it on a few TV shows there.
The follow up to that will be "C'mon Baby Now", another very catchy tune, this one exploring the difficulties of trust in a relationship: "C'mon baby now / Poison me with lies you cannot keep / I'm reflecting now / And wondering just how on earth I'll sleep / This secret's hard to keep / C'mon baby now / Coincidence is just a term you try / Cheap protection from the feelings that you know you can't deny / Do your rules still apply?" Trust is also the subject of "Under My Guard", a sweet ballad about the inadvertent armor we create around ourselves in relationships. This song is driven by the rhythm section of King and Stevens, and features some nice organ work from guest Matthew Vehl.
Lynchpin know how to create melodic pop that resonates in a big way. "Don't Talk About Us", the CD opener, is a delicious plea for agreed-upon deception. The couple's no longer together, but "no matter what they say, don't talk about us" is the request. The wonderful chorus shows by example exactly how it's handled: "I'm fine / I'm fine, thank you / Thanks for asking but I'm fine / And she's fine / She's great, thank you / Thanks for asking but she's fine". Dave Stevens provides some impressive bass work on this one.
Musically, Lynchpin's sound references the early work of Crowded House, with Kirkland's vocals reminiscent of a younger Neil Finn. "Inside Her Head" (and its arrangement) sounds very much like it could be a Finn/Crowded House composition, while "It's Too Late" also recalls that magical early Crowded House sound (even down to the organ solo). "Why Don't You Face It", a musical examination of a doomed illicit love affair between a married man and his secretary, has a Glenn Tilbrook/Squeeze feel to it, as well as a hint of Finn's "Sinner". Still, Lynchpin's sound is very much their own, with harmonies and musical accents that fill the headphones, yet remain spare enough to convey the emotions behind the lyrics' intent.
Kirkland plays some sweet jangly guitar on the haunting "Is There Anyone Out There", a soft song that looks for someone in the universe as kindred spirit, feeling the same way about chasing down a love as some comet racing across the sky. Another highlight is the uptempo "It's All Good", wherein a man is transformed by his ladylove into doing and acting differently, visiting concertos, opera, art galleries, etc. without regrets: "I'd rather shop than go to the game / My seasons tickets have gone down the drain".
Harmonies drive "Jessica," a dulcet and dear farewell to an intriguing love. Perhaps the most beautiful song here, though, is the delicate "Four in the Morning", a tune of wistful regrets and lonely longing bathed in strings (ably provided by Mary Johnston and Willem Van Der Vis).
Playful lyrics dominate "Breathing Down My Neck", featuring lines like "the trigger happy locomotive that I call defense / Has now been crushed by the mortar and the pestle on the bench / And you're insightful in a dubious way / And as I rifle through the games that you play".
These 14 songs (13 listed tracks, plus a bonus-hidden string and vocals only version of "Don't Talk About Us") are a very strong sophomore effort. Lynchpin have matured some as a band, concentrating on their song craft, seeking respect more than popularity this time around (though one can follow the other). These tracks cover traditional relationship issues (trust, deception, loneliness and more) in intelligent ways, but couch them in mellifluous melodies that come across with a healthy serving of vocal honesty and soul. Hand-Picked Words features songs that happily will stick in your heart and mind for a long time to come.