In the last few years, it seems like the line between “indie” pop and just regular pop has been blurred. Bands like Sleigh Bells that started off in the blogosphere and on indie sites like Pitchfork have popped up in car commercials and on Saturday Night Live, stages that used to be reserved for only the most mainstream rock/pop artists. This year, artists like Grimes have made great pop albums that are influenced as much by Mariah Carey as they are by obscure 80s bands.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but at the same time it seems like the initial spirit of indie pop — which used pop structures but also had more emotional, honest lyrics than mainstream pop — has sort of disappeared in lieu of an increasing obsession with pure hooks and adrenaline. I can like poppy music, but an argument I’ve had on Facebook and elsewhere is that the “pop” should never come at the expense of a true emotional connection with the music.
All this is why I’m madly in love with Allo Darlin’s new album Europe. The band, fronted by Australian Elizabeth Morris, is very much a throwback to earlier indie pop bands like Tiger Trap that expertly combined catchy pop melodies with genuine emotion. Europe is their second full-length, and it’s full of non-stop beautiful pop with jangly guitars, heartfelt singing, and honest, clever lyrics. While it sometimes sounds like other indie bands are auditioning for the next iPod commercial, the music of Allo Darlin’ feels refreshingly genuine. It’s not what anyone would call ambitious or daring, but part of its charm is its simplicity in an era of music that seems to be defined increasingly by gimmicks.
Musically, the band invites easy comparison to other sweet lyric-driven indie pop bands like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura. The band’s arrangements are usually pretty straight-forward, with the typical guitar/bass/drums along with some occasional ukelele and strings. However, what really distinguishes the band is Morris, who is an extremely likable singer.
Morris’ songs are able to transcend the pejorative “twee” label due to her great voice and knack for storytelling. The lyrics on Europe often seem like real-life narratives, especially on “Tallulah,” which is the one song on the album that features just Morris and her ukelele. The word “ukelele” usually induces groans from me and others, but her lyrics elevate “Tallulah” and make it one of the best songs on the album, one that perfectly captures its bittersweet feelings on relationships and music. “I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that will mean something,” Morris sighs. “And I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that will mean something.”
Europe is peppered with little lyrical details that make the narratives feel real. Music is referenced frequently — standout track “The Letter” mentions the Silver Jews, while the aforementioned “Tallulah” is a reference to the album by the Go-Betweens (or possibly twee band Tallulah Gosh — both can be seen as influences on Allo Darlin’s music). As the title suggests, there are also a lot of geographical references as Morris seems to go on a tour throughout the continent on the album. She also returns to her homeland on stellar lead single “Capricornia,” which matches the album’s feelings of place and love with jangly, upbeat guitars.
On final track “My Sweet Friend,” Morris sings “a record is not just a record; records can hold memories.” Europe is a record that seems to hold a lot of them, and poignant moments like that are what makes it my favorite pop album of the year so far.