Sorry Love is the sort of album critics like to refer to as slight or lacking in substance. It’s a concise 23 minutes long, and it consists of breezy pop songs created by two people with just a handful of instruments: keyboard, guitars, a drum machine. Lupe Nunez-Fernandez sings in a whisper, like she’s about to float away, or disappear into the shadows. Her bandmate, Mark Powell, sometimes sings as well, usually in the background, sounding even more hesitant, like he’s peeking in from those same shadows. Their songs are short, usually around the two-minute mark. The general demeanor of the music is soft, quiet, light. These are all reasons to dismiss the album as lacking in significance, right? But the thing is, Pipas sounds like no other band in existence. Their style is absolutely their own. And the “unfinished,” “slight” aspects of it are central to its charm.
Charm is a good word here. Style, too. There’s an intimacy to the songs themselves: love songs, lonely-day songs, goodbye songs. The cover art appears to be a painting on an envelope, and that’s appropriate. All of these songs feel like letters, sent or unsent. They also remind me of films: small films about people and places, where those people and places stick with you forever.
In particular I often get a serious French New Wave vibe from Pipas. Maybe it’s because in the past some of their songs have referenced world cinema overtly (a 7″ single was cleverly titled “A Short Film About Sleeping”); maybe it’s a certain transcontinental air (the duo is currently based in London and New York City, met in Philadelphia, and sometimes sing in Spanish); maybe it’s the general fashionableness of their aesthetic, musically and in terms of cover art design; maybe it’s the love struck, freewheeling, deep-thinking characters, whose perspective the songs seem to take. In any case, I often enjoy thinking of their recordings like a musical version of Band of Outsiders: youthful and playful, a bit reckless (though quietly so), and with a solid foundation of melancholy.
Somewhere beneath the surface of Sorry Love, both a river of tears and a dance party are waiting to break out. The latter side of their music is more pronounced here than ever, with songs like “Riff Raff” and “Yrrkdbk” possessing rhythms that gently beckon you to dance. But there’s also the persistent sense that the members of Pipas are playing this music in a quiet, hidden room somewhere. Singing secrets into the walls, perhaps, like Tony Leung in In the Mood for Love.
This is solitary music, and yet the melodies themselves are universal. Pipas’ tunes are incessantly fetching, even when they’re presented shyly, as they usually are. Listen to “Long Songs”; it’s the shy twin sibling of a global radio hit, number one with a bullet.
The closing song (“Sorry Love”), the longest song here by half, carries inside it the echo of a mad dance party. Its sounds are gently pounding the floor, creating a never-ending spiral of unleashed energy. And at the same time the song is careful, quiet, soft, patient. Those dual personalities balance themselves out wonderfully. This music is “pop,” in several senses of the word.