Do Whatever Turns You On

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Aberfeldy's marvelously endearing and ramshackle (the word is nigh inescapable) Young Forever was one of the most auspicious indie pop debuts of the 2000s. It earned the Scottish quintet a small but devoted following in the States and tour slots opening for lite rock heavy-hitters (albeit somewhat odd stylistic bedfellows) James Blunt, the Beautiful South, and Paolo Nutini in their home Kingdom. In 2007 they landed the distinctly '00s-style promotional coup of having one of their songs (the infectious "Summer's Gone") featured in a widely seen commercial (in keeping with a time-honored rock & roll tradition, it was an ad for Coke), but even as like-minded Europeans such as Peter Bjorn and John and I'm from Barcelona were racking up stateside accolades, Aberfeldy's 2006 sophomore album still failed to see a U.S. release. And it's a crying shame, because Do Whatever Turns You On is, if anything, more immediate than its predecessor: it's bigger, bolder and shinier, without sacrificing a single ounce of charm -- a larger recording budget meant they weren't limited to a single microphone this time out, but it still sounds wonderfully intimate and welcoming -- and most crucially, without losing their penchant for endlessly hummable indie pop melodies. The rootsy country vibe of the debut is still present occasionally, most notably on the gently luminous book-ending tracks "If-Then" (also known as "Someone Like You") and "Turn Me Towards the Light," though Sarah McFadyen's fiddle is largely absent, but in general (and even on these tunes) the band piles on the synthesizers and electric guitars more than ever, resulting in a slightly more conventional power pop/rock sound ("Need to Know" could almost pass for the Cars with its gleaming synth lines and cowbell-fueled riffage.) Either way it's still unmistakably Aberfeldy, in the way the songs are full to bursting with good cheer, glockenspiels, generous helpings of organ, and especially their distinctive, delicious group vocals -- Riley Briggs' reedy tenor is almost always accompanied by the tight harmonies of McFadyen and Ruth Barrie, whether wailing like Linda Thompson on the chorus of "All True Trendies." or offering cheeky retorts to Briggs' lead on "Hypnotised" ("shut up! shut up!" they chirp in response to his self-doubting verse speculations.) Another possible selling point: though the band's penchant for romanticism is decidedly intact, Whatever is a substantially less twee affair than their debut, thanks mostly to the more muscular arrangements and a handful of uncharacteristically sardonic lyrics. Witness "1970s," with its snide swipes at trendy retro culture: "you dress as if it was the 1970s/you say 'far out, man' but you don't know what it means." Briggs has suggested in interviews that these sentiments are primarily self-directed, and reasonably so given the '70s and '80s pop signifiers that crop up all over this record -- not that that's cause for derision, mind you. In any case, the overall sentiment of the album is unmistakably positive; it's right there in the titular credo, which the band seem to have taken to heart. "It's up to you/do what you want to do/you can tell the truth or lie/come on baby/you might as well dance all night" they exhort the listener in the rousing "Up Tight"; roughly the same sentiment is expressed in the irrepressibly bouncy anti-conformist/self-fulfillment anthem "Whatever Turns You On." They may not be particularly nuanced lyrically, but those two songs just happen to be two of the sharpest pop/rock nuggets anyone's come up with in recent years, though you could make an equally compelling case for "Hypnotised," or "1970s" or, actually, come to think of it, most of the rest of the album.

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