Serendipity is rarely preceded by collapse. After a series of studio mishaps with a faulty 8-track recorder, a followup to The Proper Ornaments’ predecessor ‘Wooden Head’ seemed unlikely. With time and money wasted, James Hoare (Ultimate Painting and Veronica Falls) and Max Oscarnold’s (TOY) relationship would momentarily deteriorate. They’d eventually bury the hatchet and wield a shovel, retreating to Hoare’s homemade studio in pursuit of excavating ‘Foxhole,’ their cleanest, least pretentious release to date. The release escapes the lo-fi haze of 2013’s ‘Waiting for the Summer’ compilation, opting for a more focused, simplified sound.
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The trio’s barebones approach generates sparser soundscapes, giving each of ‘Foxhole’’s eleven tracks ample amounts of elbowroom. Proper Ornaments have continued to explore psychedelic influence, combining contemporaries like Woods and EZTV with
“classic-psych” cornerstones The Byrds and Velvet Underground. By adding a reinvigorated appreciation for the piano, the band is able to soften their approach without sacrificing resonance. ‘The Frozen Stare’ and ‘1969’ most effectively employ these techniques, with the latter’s dream pop synths providing the track with extra woozy idiosyncrasies.
The best moments found on ‘Foxhole’ bookend the tracklist. Starting with ‘Back Pages,’ the album’s most Real Estate-recalling number, Proper Ornaments gently float into view as Hoare preaches the passage of time, singing, “Back pages don’t turn themselves, you see/it takes one to turn and another to read.” Two tracks later, ‘Memories’ provides some of the album’s finest lyrics scripted over simplistic, yet haunting melodies.
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‘Cremated (Blown Away),’ despite being one of the best tracks on the record, bears an overtly similar riffage to Ultimate Painting’s eponymous ‘Ultimate Painting.’ In fact, both song’s opening arpeggios and drum patterns are virtually identical, with ‘Cremated’ being conspicuously down tuned a half step.
If you like what you’ve heard from Foxhole’s latest singles, you will enjoy this album. But listeners already familiar with James Hoare’s other projects may find themselves experiencing déjà vu all over again, as a frustrating amount of ‘Foxhole’ is reminiscent of the artist’s previous work. It’s only been a few months since Ultimate Painting’s latest release, and yet a regrettable amount of the songs on The Proper Ornament’s latest feel like reiterations of the past. Cuts like ‘Sweet Chris,’ ‘Paying the Price,’ and ‘I Was Lost’ off ‘Green Lanes’ could easily slip unnoticed into the track listing of ‘Foxhole.’ The massive amount of output from a singular channel has led to frequent fillers like ‘Just a Dream’ and ‘When We Were Young,’ both of which fall flat of leaving a lasting impression. Despite Hoare’s recent overproduction, ‘Foxhole’ is a sweet and effortless continuation of a noteworthy side-project, capable of standing on it’s own as a torchbearer for 60’s influenced psych pop.
‘Foxhole’ is out 20th January, 2017 via Tough Love Records