Sweet and lowdown
UK quartet Allo Darlin’ isn’t trying to break you heart … but they just might
Allo Darlin’ has been accused of writing pop songs that are overly precious or too “twee,” often earning the group comparisons to venerable cuties Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura. The London quartet (visiting Chico’s Origami Lounge Wednesday, May 9, with UK-mates The Wave Pictures) does play music that is at times achingly sentimental and, yes, sweet. But Allo Darlin’—led by Aussie vocalist Elizabeth Morris—present these tales of heartache with such dear-diary candor that it feels more like late-night conversations with a close friend. In other words, Allo Darlin’ offers human stories without allowing melodrama to gum things up.
Morris wields the pen behind the narratives on the band’s sophomore release Europe, a record that’s less conceptual in its title than in its assortment of character studies.
“Most of the album is about loneliness—people and places,” said Morris by phone from the band’s tour van. “I always found it interesting when songs sound happy but are quite dark.”
That time-tested songwriting device is no doubt a product of Morris’ love for The Smiths. She also cites fellow Brisbanites The Go-Betweens as an influence. The specters of both can be heard throughout Allo Darlin’s first two full-lengths. And while the band’s 2010 self-titled debut also included Morris’ wistful storytelling, Europe is a more assured album musically, relying less on sparse folky arrangements and daring to rock out a little more. Morris’ voice will get you as well on songs like “Capricornia” and especially on “The Letter,” a song originally inspired by her grandparents’ correspondence during World War II. Even Morris conveying the significance of the song is enough to choke you up.
“I actually wanted to write a song about my grandparents,” she explained. “In 1942 my grandfather went back to the war, and he would write these letters to my grandmother. She had the letters buried with her, and it was just too emotional to write about.”
Instead “The Letter” pines for the days when lovers—one of whom is obsessed with the Silver Jews—labored over the written word and waited even longer for the response. Album closer “My Sweet Friend” tells of a meeting between friends on the day a famous pop star died. Morris doesn’t reveal who it is in the song, although she explains she’s referring to Amy Winehouse, who died from alcohol poisoning in June of last year.
“She used to live a few houses up from me,” said Morris. “She was an amazing person. We were the same age, and I sort of related to her in a way, although I’ve never gone through what she had. I was very sad when it happened.”
It might seem hard to believe, but Europe is far from a downer. It’s saved by shimmering guitars, ukulele and just the right amount of handclaps and tambourine. And there’s a comforting warmness to Morris’ voice, which thankfully still clings on to an Australian accent.
All of the murmurs of Allo Darlin’ being too cutesy are not completely unwarranted on the surface, but deeper listening reveals that it’s not a sham. In fact, I’m convinced Morris might have been born during the wrong decade. At the very least, she’d be content going back to a time when we weren’t handcuffed to glowing monitors. “Email is cool,” she says, “but the idea of a letter is a special thing.”