The Brunettes

Structure and Cosmetics

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The Brunettes make a big leap forward on Structure and Cosmetics. While their indie pop always had its sophisticated moments, this album is by far their most polished, expansive work -- in fact, it often feels like one mammoth, symphonic pop song with nine movements as opposed to separate tracks. This switch from the fuzzy, three-minute perfection of their earlier songs to more stylized, freewheeling territory takes some getting used to, but it's well worth getting acquainted with it. "Brunettes Against Bubblegum Youth," with its handclaps, brass, massed vocals, and wailing guitars and synths, sounds like the theme song to the Brunettes' all-singing, all-dancing revue, and shows that the band can use maximalism to the max even better than before. "Stereo (Mono Mono)" plays with this big sound, using it to make a love song that sounds like a conversation. Heather Mansfield's and Jonathan Bree's vocals are in opposite channels, like two tracks passing in the night, as sounds ebb and flow around them; it almost feels like you're spying as you listen, but the song is too charming to care much. Along with greater sonic depth, Structure and Cosmetics also carries more emotional heft than the band's earlier work, and the overriding melancholy is especially striking on "Her Hairagami Set"; there something strangely sad in all the hairstyles that Mansfield lists and the yearning in Bree's voice as he sings about her from a distance. "Structure and Cosmetics" itself is a moody, spaghetti Western-tinged vignette of domesticity gone wrong that is the darkest Brunettes song to date. Relatively lighthearted moments like "Obligatory Road Song" and "If You Were Alien" -- surely the only song to ever mention interstellar love and baking banana bread within a few words of each other -- hark back to the lilting songs on albums like Mars Loves Venus and provide the bridge between the band's old and new sound, making the bittersweetness of "Credit Card Mail Order" and "Small Town Crew" all the more striking. Even though the Brunettes have done quite a bit with the structure and cosmetics of their sound, its foundation still sounds delightful, and this is the band's most accomplished work yet.

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