The new one from The Proper Ornaments is a thing of modest perfection. Foxhole, out here on this side of the Atlantic on Slumberland Records this Friday, offers up a set of quiet-yet-precise indie rockers that are, nearly, as significant as those made by the bands that these 2 guys are normally performing with.
James Hoare, he of Ultimate Painting and Veronica Falls, and Max Oscarnold, he of Toy and Pink Flames, were friends first (according to the press materials) and band-mates later. That sort of makes sense as the recordings here -- stuff like "Memories" and "I Know You Know" -- suggest a wealth of languid Sundays spent bonding over classic Zombies sides, late-period Teenage Fanclub albums, and select tracks from Big Star's Chris Bell. At their very best, The Proper Ornaments make stately chamber pop that charms like a warmer version of something off of Floyd's Obscured By Clouds ("The Frozen Stare"), or a less-VU-obsessed version of Hoare's own Ultimate Painting ("Bridge By A Tunnel"). On something like "Cremated (Blown Away)", the light effect is similar to that of a spry early McCartney solo track, while "Back Pages" echoes The Byrds and The Beau Brummels in fine, memorable ways. If the band bring a classic Eighties DIY-slash-C86 approach to this sort of stuff, they are, clearly, mentally stuck in "1969" to reference another highlight here. Still, this sort of backward-looking stuff works spectacularly here.
Bridging the Lou-abides vibe of mid-period Feelies numbers with a sort of less angular take on the art pop of Felt at their most inward-looking, The Proper Ornaments make sublime tunes that owe as much to The Zombies, or Lennon, as they do to Yo La Tengo and early Lilac Time. Foxhole succeeds brilliantly by ratcheting back the big gestures and large moments. By doing this sort of thing so well, and without seemingly breaking a sweat while chasing past pop ghosts, the boys in The Proper Ornaments have elevated this kind of music beyond the rote revivalism it would have become in other hands. Instead, this material is vital and full of life even as it seems to quietly slip into your ears and stay.
It's not too much of a stretch to say that 2017 is unlikely to see an album that does what it sets out to do so well. Utterly infectiousness and possessing a subdued glory that is hard to deny, Foxhole by The Proper Ornaments is an album every bit as wonderful as those produced by the other bands featuring James Hoare and Max Oscarnold.
[Photo: Uncredited promo pic]