July 25, 2005

Tullycraft "Disenchanted Hearts Unite"

If you're already familiar with Tullycraft, you'll love this record. I'm just going to tell you now that if you like Tullycraft at all, you should go buy this record. It's the best they've ever done. Even though Tullycraft has already had a tribute album dedicated to them, and a career full of hit singles, everything they've done seems to have been leading up to this moment. (Unless the next album is even better.) Then I'll say that their career was leading up to that moment. But for now...

Tullycraft is one of the most well-known bands in all of twee pop. They've gained much notoriety because of the special and unique place they hold in the twee subgenre. Let me ask you something. How many twee bands can you think of in which the band members come off as geeky? Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but I can only think of one. Everyone in the world of twee comes off as one of the beautiful people (and you wonder how they came to be involved in underground music), or they just look like average people (i.e. Apples In Stereo). Not Tullycraft. Tullycraft radiates an aura of dorkiness. Just listen to frontman Sean Tollefson's voice. That's got to be one of the nerdiest voices this side of They Might Be Giants. And yes, I mean all this as a compliment.

I'm glad they're geeky. Those who know me personally know that I think that geeks rule. Therefore, Tullycraft rules. Tullycraft's geekiness gives them that paradoxically hip insight that comes from being on the outside looking in. It's this sort of insight that allows them to write songs like "Twee" from their last album, Beat Surf Fun, peppered with references to Sarah Records and other indie -pop institutions. Or how about "Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend's Too Stupid to Know About"? It seems like the members of all the big twee bands don't listen to other twee bands that much, but when you hear Sean trying to lure back an ex-girlfriend with sessions of listening to Neutral Milk Hotel, Lois, and the Crabs, there's a hipness factor that other twee bands don't have. The hipness continues on Disenchanted Hearts Unite (I love the line, "Ricky says that my band's just a Sebadoh rip-off, and I can't say I disagree," from "Secretly Minnesotan").

Besides that, Tullycraft is just plain cute. The geeky voice, their songs, and the female vocals they sometimes add into the mix all add up to extreme cuteness.

It’s a cuteness that shines through, despite a somewhat negative vibe that permeates this new album. Disenchanted Hearts Unite, pulled from a lyric in the song, "Our Days in Kansas", is a perfectly apt title. The majority of the album seems to have a strange fatalistic vibe concerning failed love, about relationships that should have been but just didn't work out for whatever reason. And while the blow is softened by that upbeat twee sound, I can't help but feel a sense of regret when "Polaroids From Mars" comes on and they sing, "There was that night on the phone, you said, 'Let's kill the mod revival,' to some applause. And then you paused as if almost to say, 'I love you,' but the words, they failed, and the frigate sailed. And in another couple years, we woke up next to different people, and the distance found us here." Don't you just hate seeing shyness end a happy relationship before it started? Damn it, if only you'd say something that to that friend you have a crush on before you lose your chance!

So, why is Disenchanted Hearts Unite better than all their other works so far? Certainly, their songwriting seems to have improved, as evidence by the above lyrical excerpt. Disenchanted Hearts Unite sounds a lot like a better version of Beat Surf Fun, already a great album in its own right, but Tullycraft has managed to make their sounds even more catchy and their lyrics even more clever.

But there's one important aspect of this album to which I can point and say, "This put them over the top!" It's so simple, yet it seems like they've broken through one wall that was keeping them from reaching their full potential. And that earth-shattering, yet simple change in the method is...

They have female vocals on every song.

Remember how I said that they "sometimes" add female vocals into the mix before? Well, on this album, whether it be backing vocals or a duet, there is a woman (usually Jenny Mears, but Jen Abercrombie of Rizzo sings great duets with Sean on "Fall 4 U" and "Building the Robot") singing. While I like Sean's voice, there's just something about adding female vocals to a song that improves it significantly, even if it's background harmonizing. Boy-girl vocals are just plain cute. Jenny Mears, you have no idea how much you're helping the band by becoming a full-time member. Or maybe you do. Either way, thank you so much!

I'd also like to give Tullycraft props for their awesome songwriting on "Every Little Thing". Not really for the topical content of the song, so much as for the nonsense syllables. Yes! It's unbelievable how much mileage they get out of the catchy "Uh, uh, uh, oh" vocals on that song. You have to actually hear this song to understand how catchy and addictive that vocal line is. I've had that song on repeat for days just because of those vocals!

Another thing is that indiepop fans will appreciate the Helen Love cover, "Girl About Town", and the BMX Bandits semi-cover, "Molly's Got a Crush On Us", the latter being a semi-cover because the original was called "Kylie's Got a Crush On Us". To be honest, I've never heard the original version of either song (although I've heard a lot of Helen Love) and if I didn't know they were covers, I'd swear they were Tullycraft originals. And knowing what Helen Love sounds like, I bet their cover of "Girl About Town" sounds drastically different from the original, making the song their own like Ash did when they covered "Punk Boy".

Finally, I'd like to call attention to the clever art direction on the liner notes. The inside cover is laid out in the form of a classified ads section, like the kind one would find in the back of comic books and old kids' magazines. The band credits and thank yous are juxtaposed with ads for products like sheet music for songs like "This Is Fake D.I.Y." and "Jenny Not Any Dots", giving Tullycraft yet another outlet for their indie hipness (and that particular ad is a very funny inside joke for avid twee fans).

I could write a novel about this album (or a series of short stories about blissful relationships that could have been, but never developed thanks to stupid quirks of fate), but I trust that you get the point that this is an incredible album, and definitely in the running for best twee album of the year (which, in my eyes, would make it the best album of the year). This is how twee-pop should be done, and I hope that lots of people buy this album and rip off its ideas. Especially the part about bringing a girl into the band and just letting her sing so the boy doesn't bogart all the vocal presence on the album.

And I swear that the "Uh, uh, uh, oh" part on "Every Little Thing" is worth the price of the CD alone!

--Eric Wolf

Band website: http://www.tullycraftnation.com
Label website: http://www.magicmarkerrecords.com

No comments: