The Proper Ornaments Find The Keys To Success On Second Album
In this world of constant change, where today’s tweet is tomorrow’s LAD Bible clickbait, it’s sometimes nice to remark on the rare constants in our lives. The sky is still blue, hazardous smog-permitting. The Earth is still spinning, at least until its collision with Planet X. Mike Dean is still 100% box office entertainment. And jangly indie-pop remains as relevant as ever, its beauty embodied on this occasion by The Proper Ornaments’ glorious second album, ‘Foxhole’.
James Hoare (Ultimate Painting / Veronica Falls) and Max Oscarnold (Toy), the lead members of The Proper Ornaments, began writing the follow-up to 2014’s ‘Wooden Head’ back in January 2015. However, a recording mishap and a brief thawing of their friendship ensured that it was some time before ‘Foxhole’ was recorded properly, eventually being completed in James’ bedroom studio. This time away, coupled with their eventual reconciliation, has led to a record that has more of a “laid back, conversational feel”, as Max succinctly put it.
And yes, ‘Foxhole’ is a recognisable move away from the occasionally scuzzy distortion of its predecessor. While it must be noted that ‘Wooden Head’ was never a motorik freak-out in any way, its successor has certainly replaced an anxious, almost C86-inspired, chug with a more wistful, contemplative air; the sound of a band, a friendship perhaps, at peace. Furthermore, while ‘Wooden Head’ recalled the pure indie-pop of bands such as The Weather Prophets, ‘Foxhole’ sees an altogether more restrained, sparse approach, bordering on Nick Drake-esque English folk at times.
Album opener “Back Pages 2” kicks things off in typical fashion, all vocal harmonies and intertwining Yo La Tengo guitar lines. “Cremated (Blown Away)” follows in a similar vein but with a distinctly harder edge, ending in a pulsing, krautrock-lite send-off.
However, following the opening two tracks, the tempo takes a sudden dip, resulting in the rise to prominence of the band’s newfound secret weapon: keys. “Memories” is a haunting, keys-led semi-ballad, conjuring up images of rural England on a rainy day as its church organ drops in and out. “The Frozen Stare” jerks along with the same uneasy sense, while “Jeremy’s Song” verges on the 60s psych-folk track.
The album’s two stand-out moments occur in the latter half. “When We Were Young” is a perfectly delicate slice of reserved, guitar-led pop, full of subtle vocal melodies and understated Sparklehorse guitar lines. The following track, “Bridge By A Tunnel”, plods along with an upbeat Americana-twinge, making it quite comfortably the album’s feel-good track.
The easy comparison for this record is going to be Ultimate Painting’s latest album, ‘Dusk’, and perhaps that won’t be entirely unjustified at times. I cannot stress enough, however, how much more respect The Proper Ornaments deserve than being labelled rather cheaply as Ultimate Painting’s little brother. ‘Foxhole’ is a charming journey through decades of guitar-pop. There’s something here for everyone.