Parsnip are four ladies from Melbourne, Australia who craft quirky indie pop songs in styles reminiscent of acts like: The Pancakes, The Aislers Set, and The Raincoats. When the Tree Bears Fruit is the group’s first full-length album, and it’s a beautifully performed and recorded affair containing eleven songs not on either of the band’s previous two seven inches.
Instead of easing new listeners into their weird world with an opening song consisting of otherwise safe, catchy hooks and choruses, Parsnip chose the occasionally atonal and proudly odd-yet-playful “For A Ride” as the lead-off track. Over a cheap-sounding retro organ (an instrument that will appear on every song hereafter, so get used to it) and a bouncy wah-wah-infused guitar lead, bassist/vocalist Paris Richens sings in an affected, cutesy, almost babyish style that makes you wonder for a moment if English is her first language. “Are you taking me for a ride?” Richens and company repeat during each chorus as the guitar and organ punctuate each go-round with off-key blasts that sound like a car’s horn.
While many of the songs here often feel silly and childish in both content and execution, the musicianship throughout is surprisingly strong, and it’s obvious that this sort of intentional amateurism doesn’t come without a considerable amount of ability. Consider the tempo-shifting lead and bass work on “Lighthouse Beacon”. Here, Richens and guitarist Stella Rennex noodle their way through tricky prog fingerings as keyboardist Rebecca Liston and drummer Caroyln Hawkins hold things together on their end. There isn’t a whole lot of instrumental diversity on When the Tree Bears Fruit. The moody “My Window” features a peppy sax solo that fits well, and “Seafarer” does contain some additional tick-tock percussion and what sounds like a xylophone. Everything else is provided care of Parsnip’s core four.
When the Tree Bears Fruit’s halfway point is reached with two of the album’s finest moments. The lovely “Too Late” finds the ladies winding their way through two choruses with all-in vocals punctuated each time with lovely “ahhhs” before a satisfying bridge is reached just before the track’s last minute. “Rip it Off” follows immediately after and ends up being the most retro-sounding song on the record. It’s a speedy number that conjures images of 60s go-go dancers and bouffant hairdos.
The record is concluded with the cheery “Trip the Light”. Although its title may suggest otherwise, the bulk of this album-ender is a pretty straightforward pop song up to the last minute and a half when the ladies lock into a repeated “na na na na” over handclaps that ultimately devolves into whoops and cackles. When the Tree Bears Fruit won’t be for everyone. It’s safe to say that if you’re not on board from the jump, you’re probably not going to stick around long. However, if you have a youthful spirit, and you like retro-quirky indie pop, you’re sure to find something to love on Parsnip’s full-length debut.