Half Australian and half British, Allo Darlin’ was something of a Commonwealth analogue to Holland’s Bettie Serveert. While their delightful and engaging guitar-and-ukulele pop is generally lighter in spirit and sound, leaning toward whimsy at times, the unique and memorable melodies, an off-kilter lyrical approach, the quartet’s gender composition and Elizabeth Morris’s distinctive vocals make the groups at least comparable. Both convey an aura of approachable, even intimate friendliness; it’s hard to imagine seeing either outside a small club. (I’ve done, and they were both spectacular entertainment.)
Essaying a few different stylistic approaches, the self-titled debut is a megadose of the peppy, breathy, crystalline winsomeness that swept through the indie rock universe shortly after the turn of the century, a refined echo of the C86 generation with echoes of Heavenly as well as stylistic successors like the Sundays and even Jens Lekman. (That’s not entirely random: before Allo Darlin’ got off the ground, Morris was in Tender Trap with Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey of Heavenly.) Tethered to brisk drumming, the blend of crisp guitar strums and uke plinks sets the general tone; occasional bursts of lead and keyboard dramatize the restrained singing and handsome harmonies. The romantic frustration of “Silver Dollars” shimmers and soars; the gently delicate “Heartbeat Chilli” [sic] charmingly blends food and love with skeletal instrumentation (although I’m unsure exactly what kind of spaghetti recipe “has two heartbeats”); “Let’s Go Swimming” amusingly namechecks a number of London neighborhoods in order to praise the memory of a lake in Sweden; and “Woody Allen” pays a cinematic visit to three arthouse icons (“I wouldn’t like to be like Bibi Andersson in Wild Strawberries / What a doll she is, but I’m really not that complex.“)
With better-developed production, busier arrangements and appreciably more confident pep, Europe begins with another romantic song that uses a celebrity (“Neil Armstrong”) as its launching pad. A peripatetic collection that travels from Germany to Philadelphia, “Atlantic City” all the way to “Capricornia” (a section of Queensland in Australia). The music doesn’t range as far, although it has distinct poles: “Tallulah” is a modest ukulele ballad, while “Still Young” is a racing rocker. In between, “Some People” floats lazily on pedal steel; “Europe” shifts up and down like a bicycle on a hilly road; and “Wonderland” uses a ticktock pairing of guitar strums and percussion to support one of Morris’s loveliest vocals about emotional devotion. The album ends with a resonant metaphor: “A record is not just a record / Records can hold memories / All these records sound the same to me /
And I’m full up with memory.”
We Come From the Same Place doesn’t sound significantly different, but the open hopefulness and ebullient inspiration of the first two albums is here bathed in a cloud of disillusion. That doesn’t injure the quality of the well-formed songs or the confident playing, but it’s not as joyful an experience. In “Kings and Queens,” amid some cool guitar skronk, Morris admits “I can’t pretend to be sure of myself.” In “Heartbeat,” she asks “Do you remember when we felt invincible / I’m starting to think true romance is fictional.” And, in the title track, she sings, “I can’t say everything will be OK / I’m just trying to make it through another Tuesday.” Rather than inspiring a stardust spin around the room, these songs encourage sympathy and concern for a musical character who seems a little lost, a little sad and uncertain. “Angela,” a finely wrought creation structured like Stax soul slowed down and opened up, contributes to the album’s faint air of melancholy.
And that, perhaps not surprisingly, was the end of Allo Darlin’.