Second albums are hard, especially when the first one is really good. Figuring out their next move has been the demise of many a good band or artist. In the case of Charles Howl, they managed to figure it out. Sir Vices, the debut album released by the Proper Ornaments bandmembers Danny Nellis (aka Charles Howl) and Bobby Syme (aka Danny Voltaire,) was a rollicking neo-psychedelic gem, filled with unassumingly strong songs and sticky arrangements made out of the softer elements of psych pop and a little bit of spooky darkness. The duo could have made more albums in that style, digging deeper or just rolling along happily. Instead, on their second album, My Idol Family, they made a daring creative leap. They stripped away a large portion of the guitars, kept the arrangements very simple, utilized loads of vintage keyboards, and added the backing vocals of Victoria Hamblett on most of the tracks. It makes for a very different listening experience, almost sounding like a different band at times. The throughline is provided by Nellis' understated vocals and the strong songcraft. The more precise arrangements allow both of these aspects to come through more clearly and it makes the record a little more powerful and long lasting than Sir Vices. That record was a fun listen, but this is something more impressive in two meanings of the word: The skill that the duo employ while putting the songs together is laudable, and they seem to know just when to bring in the twanging guitars, shivery synths, and sweet backing vocals for maximum impact. The songs also leave more of an impression, thanks to the autumnal melancholy most of them radiate with their slow tempos, gloomy melodies, and delicate vocals. My Idol Family is not exactly the Clientele, but it's in the same vicinity, and just about every song here would sound great on a playlist next to theirs -- the Coral, too, and any other band with an affinity for leaves turning color, breath turning foggy, and flickering candlelight. It's an impressive move forward for the band and does much to separate them from the hordes of neo-psych bands while cementing their place as a band worth keeping tabs on.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra