Listening to the calm and steady indie pop of the Proper Ornaments' second album, one would never suspect the struggle and turmoil that went into its creation. After releasing their excellent 2014 album Wooden Head, the two guys leading the band, James Hoare and Max Oscarnold, pursued other musical venues, Hoare with Ultimate Painting, Oscarnold as a member of TOY. When they got back together to work on another album, they enlisted drummer Robert Syme and bassist Daniel Nellis from their live lineup and headed into the studio. After finishing work on another batch of quietly jangly and peacefully autumnal tracks, they realized the tape machine had malfunctioned somewhere along the way and left the songs warped and unusable. The setback put a strain on the members' relationship and they went their separate ways for a time before decamping to Hoare's home studio to begin work again. The resulting tracks show none of the underlying strain or unpleasantness; instead, Foxhole is the kind of record that spreads out of the speakers like a warm wave of melancholy. The hushed voices, sweetly sung harmonies, quietly interlocking guitars, and gently rollicking tempos never break the quietly sad mood as song after song hits the sweet spot of midtempo beauty. It's a change from Wooden Head, which had a slightly more unpolished feel. This album has been burnished, waxed, smoothed, and buffed until its woody surfaces glow like a September sunset. Both Hoare and Oscarnold bought pianos during the songwriting process, and though the songs rarely feature piano in their arrangements, many, like the almost painfully pretty "Memories," have the feel of classic singer/songwriters like Harry Nilsson. Other tracks have the same relaxed lope as Ultimate Painting; some, like "Bridge by a Tunnel" and "Backpages," would have been highlights on their most recent album. Others point toward new directions their collaboration could take. The strummy country-rock of the regretful "I Know You Know" and the acoustic ballad "Jeremy's Song" show them stretching a bit in positive ways. It may have been born out of frustration and strife, but Foxhole's inherent peaceful beauty and restraint make it a perfect companion for moments of reflection.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra