Zoey Van Goey

Propeller Versus Wings

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Zoey Van Goey are a Glasgow indie pop group with connections to local legends like Belle & Sebastian and the Delgados. And while that's worth mentioning to provide a rough frame of reference for their sound, it should be stressed that they've gleaned at least as much from those two bands' adventurousness and idiosyncratic vision as they have any particular elements of musical style. They may belong to a proud tradition of scruffy Glaswegian pop bands, but they can hardly be pegged and dismissed as reverent genre traditionalists. Indeed, part of what makes their eminently likable second album, Propeller Versus Wings, initially tricky to pin down is that it refuses to stay in one place for long, skipping blithely from the dulcet, autumnal tones of "Mountain on Fire" and "Little Islands" to brisk, spiky pop bursts like the quirky, catchy "The Cake and Eating It," and flirting along the way with warbling cabaret-jazz ("My Aviator"), herky-jerky kiddie punk ("Robot Tyrannosaur"), and a smidge of country ("Extremities"). But the band has a strong enough voice that these peregrinations never feel like faceless genre exercises, or eclecticism for the sake of eclecticism. At least after a few listens to let it all sink in, the album's myriad modes hang together to present a coherent sensibility, the varied but complementary sides of the same sparkling personality: goofy at times, definitely a little geeky, but also sweet, sensitive, thoughtful, and often boldly romantic. Lyrically, Propeller touches on aspects of love, dreams, flying, and such painfully twee situations as buying 8-tracks in second-hand shops -- as well as helicopter crashes, fire-breathing monsters, and robotic dinosaurs -- but also more sobering topics like heartache, depression, and suicide. Apart from their commendable versatility, ZVG's chief calling card is their highly personable singing, especially Kim Moore's girlishly sweet soprano (recalling Kathryn Calder of the New Pornographers and Immaculate Machine -- incidentally, two other salient musical reference points) and Matt Brennan's warm, rich baritone. They're even better when they join vocal forces, especially on the album's spunkier, rockier moments. Chief among these is "You Told the Drunks I Knew Karate," an adorably dorky romp through Glasgow and a triumphant testament to young love and recklessness (with the excellent refrain: "I do the dumbest things for you") reminiscent of Los Campesinos!, with a touch of the Mountain Goats at their scrappiest. While it would be easy enough to continue lobbing apt but imprecise comparisons at them (the Magnetic Fields and Regina Spektor also come up frequently), Propeller Versus Wings shows Zoey Van Goey are capable of flying quite well on the strength of their own personality.

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