Release Date: Jul 8, 2014
Record label: Slumberland
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Occasionally, a band's back story can be more enlightening than the music it accompanies. Take The Proper Ornaments for instance, an indie supergroup of sorts. Centered around founder members Max Claps - an Argentinian born singer/songwriter who arrived in London six years ago under the tutelage of one Andrew Loog Oldham - and Veronica Falls' James Hoare, previous line-ups have included members of Let's Wrestle and NZCA Lines while the current one is completed by rhythm section Daniel Nellis (bass) and Robert Syme (drums).
The Proper Ornaments' debut full-length, Wooden Head, is the kind of album it's very easy to get lost inside of, losing track of time, getting swept up by the overwhelmingly gentle and cocooned sound of the guitars and vocals. Even when the tempos accelerate or some distortion creeps in, it happens so organically and almost tenderly that the bewitching spell the band casts is never broken. As directed by Veronica Falls guitarist James Hoare and Max Claps, the group builds on a solid foundation of '60s psych and folk haziness, mid-'80s college rock six- and 12-string jangle, late-'80s melancholy noise, early-'90s shoegaze atmosphere, and some up-to-date lo-fi neo-psych production, while adding its own sleepy charm and a knack for writing songs with hooks that aren't super-sharp to begin with, but slowly work their way deep into the bloodstream.
The Proper Ornaments’ debut album, Wooden Head, has all the requisite pop culture touchstones. The Velvet Underground? Check. The Jesus and Mary Chain? Check. The Byrds? Checkity-check-check-check. You might also find yourself reaching towards the sounds of the ‘80s Paisley Underground as well ….
The Proper Ornaments make nostalgic pop that makes them sound like Temples’ chilled-out West Coast cousins. Featuring Veronica Falls guitarist James Hoare among their number, the London quartet have largely passed under the radar so far, but recent supports with Toy and Metronomy should help this second album cement them as serious psych-pop contenders. Taking the wistful harmonies and jangling guitar tones of The Byrds and throwing in dashes of several eminent ’60s cornerstones (a little Love here, a touch of The Zombies there), the likes of highlight ‘Ruby’ and ‘Step Into The Cold’ are gloriously faithful nods to their influences, executed with enough dedication to the head-music revivalist cause to make them far more than mere pastiche.
In 2010, Argentinian songwriter Max Claps and James Hoare, of UK indie-poppers Veronica Falls, started a London band named after a song by so-square-they're-psychedelic 1960s baroque-poppers the Free Design. What the Proper Ornaments have in common with "The Proper Ornaments", from 1967 opus Kites Are Fun, isn't immediately obvious, but it starts with a penchant for hypnotic harmonies and continues with an insistence on the right decorations. Where those sunshine-y forebears quasi-ironically skewered "Mad Men"-era superficiality—"brand new car," "hat and gloves," "pretty wife who you almost love"—the '10s model proudly accessorizes itself with scruffy neo-psych.
If you’re ignorant to where London based band The Proper Ornaments took their name from you could be forgiven for thinking it’s possibly one of the most grandmother-reminding names in rock music today, conjuring up visions of your dear old gran’s collection of none-too-enthralling porcelain displays. Thankfully it isn’t an OAP inspired name, coming instead from a 1967 song by one of the band’s chief influences, the relatively unknown soft psych pioneers The Free Design. And therein lies the first clue to how The Proper Ornaments sound: think ’60s psychedelic Byrdsian guitars and harmonious Crosby, Stills and Nash like vocal arrangements.
Proper Ornaments — Wooden Head (Slumberland)Wooden Head slouches into earshot on a VU-ish shamble, lofts trippily Byrdsian melodies over tangled guitar jangle, blows smoke-ringed CSNY harmonies and even attempts a Stereolab drone once. At certain points, in certain songs, you can hear echoes of the most plain vanilla of rock and roll forebears, the Beatles, Beach Boys, Velvet Underground and the Byrds, bands so generically influential that to name them means almost nothing at all. And yet, there’s really nothing dull or copycat or even over worshipful about this album.
Fans of Toy or Metronomy are likely to have seen The Proper Ornaments in action - they've supported both bands on recent tours. A deft stroke of PR airbrush has consigned 2013's ten song Waiting For The Summer (Lo Recordings) to the status of "EP" or "collection" - it was categorically not a debut album. This here - the album under review, this one - is their actual debut.
After a chance meeting in a vintage shoe shop in London, Argentinean guitarist Max Claps hooked up with Veronica Falls’ guitarist Andrew Hoare to form The Proper Ornaments. Since their inception back in 2010, they’ve taken it slow - releases thus far are pretty sparse, with a couple of EPs and a compilation all that has come prior to this debut. This laidback work ethic is also evident in the music the produce.