There’s just something about a sad Englishman’s voice. The Proper Ornaments is a London based, psychedelia inspired, indie band powered by the combined talent of James Hoare (Ultimate Painting, Veronica Falls) and Max Oscarnold (Toy, Pink Flames). Their latest album Foxhole is one hell of a dive into dark sentiments and silver linings but there’s just something about a sad Englishman’s voice –and to say the least, it makes for a beautiful listen. From start to finish the band searches for ways to keep you listening, offering a steady but tasteful variety and a rollercoaster of emotions.
Foxhole comes up fast and keeps things moving slowly with a series of shoegazey, dreamy, 70’s esque pop tunes. It’s a listen with a tempo built for relaxation. The album effortlessly slaloms through the good times and bad –sorrows are wrapped in a pleasant melancholy, happiness is always underlined with a chilled out attitude.
The Proper Ornaments begins on a lax but chipper high –“Back Pages” is a cleansing opener. The vocals ease their way in alongside a crisp guitar line that sets a California rock mood –as if Creedence and The Beach Boys joined forces. The song lulls on with a steady percussion and bass line that memorize alongside a repeating guitar. Even at the song’s most energetic moments, it’s always on the verge of fading out. When the end arrives, we find ourselves drifting into a more psychedelic guitar riff and more energized, airy, trippy vocals.
“Cremated,” picks the mood up a bit and pushes Foxhole along. The song is a sort of psychedelic indie that remains chilled out while weaving in guitar riffs that could pass for sitar jams. The detail is a nice addition that adds just enough substance to slowly reel you in more. As the song nears its end, it peaks, and then crashes –sinking Foxhole into a subsequent stretch of moodiness, executed with perfect restraint.
While the album begins with a high the band wastes no time in indulging in the lows. The Proper Ornaments handles their emotional choice rather properly. The songs often work through a variety of sentiments, using a more driven melody to compliment drawn out moments of sadness, melancholy, or malaise. More than anything, Foxhole’s darker tunes struck me as perfectly balanced –honest, moving, and delivered with talented consideration.
The juxtaposition across tracks four and five stands as a powerful demonstration of The Proper Ornaments’ execution. “Just A Dream” begins with the albums second step into sinking. It’s a dreary, simple guitar line along some mournful keys. Every word sung seems to barely escape the hushed tone and the longer you listen, the longer this dark, voracious cloud pours from your speakers and demands to occupy the space over your head. It’s a convincing gloominess that permeates the barrier between listener and performer. Of course while “Just A Dream” is rather moving, it also maintains a familiarity that keeps the album consistent as a whole. Perhaps more importantly, The Proper Ornaments doesn’t overextend into overdramatic –a bit safe but effective.
“1969” brings the mood back up, “Step into the atmosphere,” the vocals come out with an echo, words float past you in their melodic haze. The guitar plays shoegaze with your ears again and repeats a hypnotizing line. Implement some digital notes and suddenly you’re taking off. In most circumstances, I’d want to blast the band for making such a leap, but throughout either performance the musicians manage to keep a seamless impression. The shifts in mood offset one another just perfectly to keep you vulnerable and listening intently. Notably, the following track returns to the gloom, but with more movement and another safe but effective composition that keeps things soft but believable.
The Proper Ornaments plays it safe but they infused their shoegazey pop tunes with such sentiment, it’s hard not to fall in love with these musicians. The guitar lines are often simple enough, but the band will get groovy and toss you a bone when you need it most. The sentimental lulls are sandwiched by more upbeat jams. It’s a strong balance and a strong listen overall.
Finally, nearing a closer, “I Know You Know,” gave an excellent final piece to listen to. The guitars gain a fuzz, accompanied by an acoustic counterpart. The vocals drift in and out. Folk is in the air and it makes for a rather standout addition to the album. When we get to the end, the band unwinds with, “The Devils.” It treads slowly with some heavy keys and a sort of loose composition. The instruments feel isolated and yet working towards this common cause. It’s a heavy way to end things –but all good things have to come to an end.
The Proper Ornaments exceeded expectations with Foxhole. A little bit psychedelic, a lot a bit indie, add a persistent shoegaze influence, and finish it off with a strong emotionality. Turn this one on and it’ll be irresistible. Foxhole is on some level a bit base –featuring relatively safe songs. But as an entire listen, the album stands out as a must. It’s convincing and from start to finish leaves one hell of an impression.