Following the seductive cool-up of Everything but the Girl and Sade, dreamy French pop began washing up on American shores in the mid-’90s, coalescing into a minor stylistic development. Although formed and based in New York City, Ivy has a Paris-born singer, Dominique Durand, to give it a legitimate claim to the accent. Thanks to her cooing charm and the beguiling sonic reverie crafted by husband/guitarist/drummer Andy Chase and drummer/bassist Adam Schlesinger (who co-founded Fountains of Wayne while remaining in Ivy), the trio’s gentle potion slid smoothly into the pop underground.
The self-produced five-song Lately boasts a semi-acoustic cover of the Orange Juice’s “I Guess I’m Just a Little Too Sensitive” (with “little” pronounced, of course, lee-dull) and an original (the wah-wahing “I Hate December”) that was actually recorded in the City of Lights. “Get Enough,” first issued as the band’s debut 7-inch single, also gets a spot on Realistic; Durand’s airy, petal-soft lilt and the music’s toned-down pop bounce make it forever Ivy. Produced by Kurt Ralske (Ultra Vivid Scene), the rest of Realistic strays little from that path. Très agréable.
Apartment Life moves Ivy on up with confidence and skill, escaping the typecasting potential of the debut by finding a niche that folds together aspects of (among others) Everything but the Girl, Sade, the Sundays and Fountains of Wayne. Just about perfect in its chosen realm, the album stays on point from the first. A cool cloud of tuneful élan, “The Best Thing” is an engaging opener; it’s followed by the cooler but no less catchy “I’ve Got a Feeling” and the jaunty, Smiths-like “This Is the Day” (which joined Jonathan Richman on the soundtrack of There’s Something About Mary), “Never Do That Again” and the rueful “I Get the Message.” A sweet but potent cocktail.
Guestroom collects up Ivy’s covers, songs by groups from the Orange Juice to the Ronettes to Serge Gainsbourg (or vice versa). The disc includes knowing renditions of such particular selections as the Cure’s “Let’s Go to Bed,” the Go-Betweens’ “Streets of Your Town” and the Blow Monkeys’ “Digging Your Scene.”
Schlesinger’s FoW bandmate Jody Porter and business associate James Iha both contribute electric guitar to In the Clear, which introduces a delectable bit of shoegazery energy and distortion to sharpen up the lulling Ivy groove. Durand wisely keeps her cool, which occasionally results in a lessening of her prominence in the mix, but that has a refreshing, rather than obscuring, effect on the songs. “Thinking About You” is the pure-Ivy highlight, carried on the same breeze as “The Best Thing,” while “Keep Moving” and “I’ve Got You Memorized” pull the group toward a Blondie/Pet Shop Boys dance vibe, “Corners of Your Mind” revs up the tempo for a change of pace, while “Clear My Mind” slows it down against a backdrop of circular guitar figures. If a few of these ten songs feel overly familiar, blame it on the band’s transparent clarity.
Brookville, Chase’s side project with the versatile Jean-Pierre Ensuque, is a deliciously unwound collection of melodic pop grooves and dreamy instrumentals in which he gets to be (when called for) the pleasant-voiced singer. With debts to both the space-age-lounge movement and the Pet Shop Boys, Wonderfully Nothing blends mild club beats, colorful keyboard synthesizing, delicate vocals and an abiding cool mood to fine effect. Neither overly demanding nor blandly ignorable, the music paints pretty pictures with a full palette of pastels.