‘While you might want something dark, treacly and bad for you, it isn’t here.‘ – Dara Higgins on The Crayon Set‘s debut album.
The Crayon Set have spent a few years honing their sound, and this eponymous release is their first full length album. It’s shiny, jangly pop music, with folk inflections in the instrumentation, violins and banjos and what have you, but it leans toward the indie pop side, more than the folk side. It’s slow motion, good times montage music, where a sort of ugly guy gets the girl that’s out of his league, before losing her again. Not too ugly, now, Martin Freeman ugly. By the end they’re reunited. Aww.
The Crayon Set are from Dublin, but they sound, if nothing else, Scottish. They create their layered pop in the way of the grandest Scottish pop traditions; that wordy, intellectual pop milieu they excel at, from Lloyd Cole to Belle and Sebastian. There has never seemed to be that same kind of ethos in Irish pop music. There’s always some baroque angle, probably because Irish people are terrified of anyone ever thinking that they’re actually taking things seriously, especially things that they do. The Crayon Set are unashamed of their cleanliness, their lilting, simple melodies, heart on sleeve lyrics and affected harmonies. The album was co-produced by Nick Brine, who once upon a time did knob twiddling on Teenage Fanclub albums. I wonder just how influential his input may have been, because there’s certainly an early nineties vibe going on, the aforementioned Teenage Fanclub are clearly an influence, but the occasional parp of the trumpet recalls James, and the Beautiful South are invoked in the intertwining of female and male lead vocals. If they turned a bit to the left, maybe it would be the Silver Jews we’d be intoning instead, or, given their polish, Lambchop. But just not quite.
It’s a light, airy confection, a Victoria sponge of a record. While you might want something dark, treacly and bad for you, it isn’t here. The occasionally salty lyrics add a frisson, the stories told are of the world humans inhabit, and the things they get up to. ‘K+J=0’ is the story of a girl meeting boy, from courting to corpsing, fucking to drinking. That kind of dark matter. It has an un-taxing uniformity, a charm, if you will.
Overall it’s well crafted, well played and recorded. It never really veers out of its presets. Despite a wide array of instruments, and evident ability, there are times when the sound seems quite uniform. Neither voice really soars above the music. On ‘Sickdays’ it’s the violin that takes off, going off on its own, axe-like. ‘Eurodisco’ is their apotheosis, the last and stand-out track. It’s accomplished, the perfect bookend to the record.
To suggest that they play it safe would be a misnomer, the genre is essentially safe, twee pop, simple hooks, songs made big by the addition of instruments. The songs are well presented and written, from arrangement to the catchy chirp of backing vocals, it’s bright and likable, like the girl in the office who’s always smiling, even when she’s disappointed. And she’s always going to be disappointed. You know the type.