Release Date: Feb 2, 2010
Record label: Lil' Chief
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Pop
While the sprightly stomp of opener “In Colours” has all the dizzy energy, boxy girl-group percussion and sing-along choruses that are hallmarks of Phil Spector’s “little symphonies for the kids,” Paper Dolls finds New Zealand Back to Mono fetishists The Brunettes tearing down the Walls of Sound they began with 2002’s Holding Hands, Feeding Ducks and absolutely perfected with 2007’s Structure and Cosmetics in order to fashion a series of synth-washed indie-pop tunes. Intimate, sugary-sweet, and boasting more hooks than one would expect for what, I suppose, could be called the band’s own Kid A for the Kids, Paper Dolls skips the symphonic pop grandeur of The Crystals for the glitchy sheen of modern electronica and indie. “Red Rollerskates,” all skittering beats and sensuous call-and-response coos, sounds destined to soundtrack the next iPod blitzkrieg; “Paper Dolls” melds moody, string-drenched atmospherics and loops to a chain of minimalist melodies; and “If I” laundry-lists a series of “what if?” death scenarios discussed between lovers against a bedrock of arcing, ethereal vocal soundscapes, becoming something of a postmodern love anthem, if a little oddball.
It’s fitting that Paper Dolls is the first Brunettes album to be released worldwide on the group’s Lil’ Chief Records: Heather Mansfield and Jonathan Bree go in a more experimental, smaller-sounding, altogether more independent direction here than they did on the comparatively lavish Structure and Cosmetics. Bree introduces more drum machines and synths into the band’s sound than ever before, particularly on “Bedroom Disco,” a percussion workout that sparkles with steel drum-like keyboards, and “The Crime Machine,” which sets Mansfield’s wish to go back to the ‘20s to a new wave backdrop that sounds distinctly ‘80s. However, storytelling and romance are still at the heart of the Brunettes’ music on Paper Dolls.
The Brunettes’ last album, the Sub Pop release Structures and Cosmetics, was a wonderful set of charming indie pop songs. The slim disc made the most of its short playing time, trying out different feels, from twee-pop sunburst to moody minor-chord pining, and it all seemed to work. Each song felt spaced out, but still contained. Each moment created with perfection in the studio, but still with an organic sway to it.
Packaged in between different staples of what pop music is are The Brunettes. A twee pop duo consisting of Jonathan Bree and Heather Mansfield, they’ve always consistently offered up a delicious amount of head-nodding music. And while it isn’t entirely dramatic or for that matter experimental, it’s always been directly channeling. New Zealand has a few marketable artists floating around and for the last ten years now, The Brunettes have provided enough good feedback to go around.