Geoffrey O'Connor

Vanity Is Forever

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The continuing 21st century indie rock fascination with the slick, studio rock of the 1980s is more than evident at the start of Crayon Fields' bandleader Geoffrey O'Connor's Vanity Is Forever, and had the title referred to Prince's one-time paramour, that would seem even more appropriate. However, as the album's cover art more than clearly indicates, the smooth synth flow and light funk evident on the softly sung "So Sorry" is more Bryan Ferry-goes-yacht rock-plus-beardo-disco. It's music to feel elegantly melancholy and groovy to, and it's brilliant, a kind of a full plunge where other artists appear to be all too apologetic for the approach. Vanity Is Forever maintains this same general feeling throughout its 12 songs, often feeling as if it's set in a coffee house on an easygoing ocean liner being filmed for a video in 1984. At points, as on songs like "Soon," the feeling is more of a keyboard-heavy kind of "perfect guitar pop," designed for a vision of indie-as-such with other roots. Thus, "Whatever Leads Me to You" has a queasy violin break that sounds like it could have escaped from a pop art release on El Records from the mid-'80s, even as the easygoing funk and synth-fadeouts continue, while the gentle opening of "Expensive," with its distant keyboard swirl and soft, acoustic guitar has its own sweet, distinct logic. O'Connor's expressions of romantic doubt and carrying on in the face of time work stylistically in the Ferry vein as well, and the lyric to "Proud," with its dessert similes and memories of hands on shirts and more, certainly fills the "look back with ambivalent regret" bill that the older musician's made his own -- but O'Connor's singing is more of a gentle purr and sighed whisper, a lack of stereotypical strength that plays well against the fuller arrangements. If a song like "Things I Shouldn't Do" is almost a rewrite of the Cars' "Drive" at the start -- and compared to the Paradise Motel's remake of that song, it's not a reinvention by any means -- it's handled with aplomb, turning into a sweetly hesitant duet vocally while the crisp drum hits, synth bass, and more turn it into something constantly both now and then in equal measure.

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