The Proper Ornaments, brought together by a love of bands like the Velvet Underground, Love, the Left Banks and the Beach Boys, have been serving up a repertoire of indie pop since the mid 2000s. Their fifth full length album Mission Bells seeks to explore what they see as the dystopian times we find ourselves in now.
Mostly melancholy, at times psychedelic or folk, this album packs a lot in. At times they’re reminiscent of the indie rock of The Shins and Grizzly Bear, and the moog sequencer featuring most prominently in Black Tar and Strings Around Your Head could sound a bit like Broken Bells. This album successfully blends a variety of styles to create something that feels fresh, but also in keeping with their established sound.
Broken Insect and The Impeccable Lawns, are characterised most strongly by psychedelic rock influences. The former features exotic electronic sounds against a strong, danceable base line and builds upon a guitar riff gradually repeated and abstracted through increased layers of sound.
On The Impeccable Lawns, vocals seem playfully reminiscent of a breathier, British Elliot Smith. Guitar features heavily here, cutting through the soft ambient sounds, later joined by a reedy sounding instrument and a violin as the song descends, again, into a psychedelic soundscape. When this fades away, we are treated to a 30 second blues-rock jam. You won’t understand how well it works until you hear it for yourself. This touch of Americana features again in Flophouse Cavalry along with Beatlesque close harmonies.
Downtown wins the listener over by making a funny reference to Petula Clark’s sunny number of the same name, using part of her chorus – “Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city/ Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty”. This dissonant and cool take on the 60s pop song feels like the band sharing some kind of in-joke with us. These jokes and references add an extra dimension to the album’s sentimental tone, which risks growing a little dull towards the end.