The Proper Ornaments
The path of PsycheRock is a well trodden one. On their fourth album, the Proper Ornaments are perfectly aware of this, and their soporific yet jagged songwriting is seamlessly performed at a steady pace, perhaps on the basis that minimalism plus repetition creates its own velocity over the length of a complete album. Unconcerned that others might make comparison with the acknowledged masters of the genre, the Brian Jonestown Massacre or, going back further, the more languid moments of the Bunnymen or CSNY, the Proper Ornaments avoid going too laid back and no, you haven’t exactly heard this one before.
The key to appreciating ‘Mission Bells’ is a barely recognisable cover of Petula Clark’s sixties anthem ‘Downtown’ which shares only the lyrics with any version of the song you may have heard previously, more resembling Spacemen 3 gone acoustic than the cheerful ballad just about everyone has heard several dozen times (in fact it’s one of the first songs I ever remember hearing). This track probably signals a certain dry humour lurking behind the sunglasses and deserves an accolade entirely of its own. There are another twelve tracks on the album though, and the Proper Ornaments are a bit more than just subtle pranksters.
What the Proper Ornaments get right is juxtaposing softly played melodies alongside gritted teeth lyrics : ‘look into the eye of the hurricane / pressure building up inside your brain’ runs ‘Echoes’, whose tune could find you nodding off over the laptop until the words bring you back with a shudder. ‘Broken Insect’ takes a harder edged turn musically, and it’s worth considering how the band would sound if they cranked things up a bit and added more reverb and distortion, although the production is cut-glass clear throughout the album.
If I’ve one actual criticism of ‘Mission Bells’ it’s that it doesn’t last quite long enough. Only one of the songs, the summery yet vaguely sinister ‘Strings Around Your Head’, clocks in at much over three minutes, and right now the simultaneously relaxing and unnerving sound of the Proper Ornaments seems like the ideal soundtrack for these emptily nerve wracked days. With any luck circumstances will allow the Proper Ornaments to go ahead with their scheduled live dates in June and July, plus if you’re quick you may still be able to grab one of the clear vinyl copies available via their website.