Brooklyn trio Pearl & The Beard return with their second full-length release, bringing a slice of radiant summer to the greyest of island shores. Perhaps better known for their quirky viral video covers of Will Smith and Technotronic, Pearl & The Beard make a sound that frequently gets described as ‘infectious’. ‘Energetic’ is another word not far behind, and with good reason; whatever you think about the noise they make, it’s always delivered with passion and gusto. Killing The Darlings hollers through the history of home-cooked R&B, tips its hat to street-corner jazz and loops its way through rootsy country, before steering a route right along the boulevard of commercial pop – a parade of influences that mostly combine to create something wholesome.
Beginning with a piece of deep-in-the-fields revival folk, a cello of doom is set above the suitably ministerial opener, ‘Reverend’. “How do I get there with these old feet?” the trio question in unison, belting out a plea for deliverance that builds and breaks out into a sweeping chorus before giving way to a surprise country hoedown finish. A similar handclap–footstomp homespun approach characterises ‘Douglas, Douglass’, which at just over two minutes retains a joyful brevity to go alongside the glee with which it is delivered. But Killing The Darlings is by no means limited to rootsy simplicity; ‘Sweetness’ is a rhythmical and driving piece of alternative rock but there’s a heartbeat or two missing from making it especially memorable, and it pulses along without ever truly catching light.
‘Prodigal Daughter’ begins with a gentle, fingerpicked lullaby to welcome home a lovely daughter “mistaken for a son”. The girl answers her father as the tune gathers pace, with lyrics that are simple but dense in their message, words that pose questions and suggest possibilities but never lend themselves to a unambiguous conclusion. It’s an intriguing tune of multiple possibilities that stands out in its tenderness. In close pursuit is the ‘The Lament Of Coronado Brown’, which has the tang of the maritime and the sweep of the cinematic. A classy slice of contemporary folk, a high vocal wafts ceremonially over an arrangement that grows in complexity from hesitant, understated beginnings to a final, cello-heavy breakdown and a riff that speaks of centuries past.
The brilliantly named ‘Jasper Christmas’ kickstarts on an ’80s off-beat then propels itself forward on a wave of handclaps and repetitions, but it’s back to hopeful tenderness for ‘Swimming’. With its lush natural imagery and a sense of hope and possibility allied to a refusal to ever break into a sweat, it’s the album’s most complex and touching moment. ‘Hot Volcano’ begins with a tremulous moan in unison before kicking in to a piece of creeping, old-time jazz that either celebrates carnality or really is about dramatic geothermal activity. Either way, it sounds as down and dirty as a trainee seismologist on an Icelandic field trip.
Killing The Darlings is an album that delights in the physical, be it the power of the voice or the joy of a well struck drum or string. The slow, bluesy cello plod of closing number, ‘Black Hole Of Calcutta’, exemplifies this with a weary voice that clamours effortlessly to the rafters before a heartstopping moment returns it to more subdued territory. Killing The Darlings is joyful even in its downbeat moments. Artful but never arch, simple but never simplistic, eclectic but never mannered, Pearl & The Beard know the traditions they draw from and create something contemporary out of their knowledge of the past. This is by no means a faultless piece of work, but it’s as good a soundtrack to a summer as you’re likely to find.
[Family; May 10, 2011]
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