Electro-pop specialists Meadowlark’s debut album was scheduled for release early this year but was delayed a little following a spate of single releases last year. Dan Broadley and Kate McGill (for whom Meadowlark was initially a solo project) have the ability to turn their hand to everything from a standard love song to deep social comment, always with plenty of melody, fairly sophisticated lyrics and usually a dreamy quality to the recording.
‘Headlights’ kicks off the album, an undemanding and fairly standard song, the message of which is “did you ever see me for who I wanted to be?” but one which introduces Kate McGill’s lush vocals that brought her millions of YouTube hits in her days as a cover artist, supported by some attractive interplay between guitar and electronics and an unusual beginning, with the sound of a vinyl LP dropping onto a turntable. ‘Sunlight’ follows in a similar vein and with the realisation of how apposite Dan Broadley’s innovative but subdued electronic sounds are.
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‘Pink Heart’ is a slightly funkier number, with a memorable melody line and a plaintive edge to Kate’s vocals and morphs almost effortlessly into ‘One’, whose format is very similar. ‘Eyes Wide’ brings the nearest to a rock beat so far in the chorus while in ‘Fly’ the plaintiveness returns.
By now there’s a pattern forming to the album. While there are some variations in tone fundamentally the songs can be identified as easy-listening; music for a long drive through the night, or when 25 degree Celsius nights become unbearable; relaxing and non-controversial but not boring, occasionally offering a surprise in the lyrics and frequently a little electronic flourish.
But on the other hand, while Kate’s voice is lush and draws you in much as OMAM’s Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir’s does in some of her phrasing, it generally lacks variety and emotion, and while that isn’t irritating it becomes increasingly noticeable as does the sometimes superfluous electronic gimmickry.
Does the second part of this 13-track album contain any surprises, then?
‘Interlude’ has no vocals and is a rather pleasant little piano piece which disappointingly ends just as you think it’s going to build into a satisfying climax, while the latest single, ‘Body Lose’ contains no surprises at all.
‘Paraffin’ has been released previously on the EP of the same name and at the time the duo described it as an ‘evolution’ in their writing as they gradually built tracks from simple melodies written on piano into dense sonic structures. It was an experimental process through which Meadowlark believed they had found their creative voice. Describing the ups and downs of a relationship it is one of the album’s more robust tracks and one that it is easier to get to grips with.
‘That’s Life’ is a slow, thoughtful piano ballad on family life and, again, one of the more agreeable tracks. Kate sounds a little like Aurora Asknes here and employs some of the vocal tricks you tend to associate with the young Norwegian.
Instrumentally, ‘Satellite’ is diametrically opposite with lots of it and an interesting, complex beat. Penultimate track ‘Undercover’ is run-of-the-mill, as close to ‘filler’ as you’ll find on the album while the title track intriguingly channels a declaration of love in the way Win Butler sang of on ‘We Used to Wait’ after finding his parents love letters, while throwing in as an aside the sort of social comment he’d relish too:
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And that is characteristic of Meadowlark on this album. They are capable of writing clever songs, Kate can sing for sure – with the caveats mentioned previously – and their musicianship is unquestionable. They have the ability to write 13 top-drawer tracks but some of them fall well short of that standard here; there is too much of the ordinary for a band that transcends it and it does ask whether an eight- or nine-track album might have been better.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that their best single of 2016, Quicksand, a sad, serious tale of modern day slave labour in Pakistan, was omitted.
Top tracks: Interlude; That’s Life
Postcards is released on 30th June on AllPoints, the in-house label of Believe