Album review: The Crayon Fields – ‘All the Pleasures of the World’

Originally published on MadeLoud,  Dec 1, 2009

It’s a bit of a cliché to say that sometimes a whisper can speak louder than a shout, but there are plenty of musical precedents to support that notion. All the Pleasures of the World is a prime example of what John Cale termed “seducing down the door.” Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, The Crayon Fields infuse their second full-length with the soft-spoken tradition of bygone acts like The Zombies and The Turtles, with good doses of newer groups like Belle and Sebastian and Iron and Wine stirred in.

That isn’t to say that The Crayon Fields are all about the quietude – this isn’t a Low album by any means. To the contrary, the quartet shows a remarkable aptitude for upbeat, smokily seductive retro arrangements. The darkness and quirkiness that American audiences have come to expect from Australian imports is replaced by a straightforward approach that brings to mind several eras of Brit-pop production. Geoff O’Connor’s songwriting also follows in that tradition, flavoring his universal themes of life and love with a smooth, sardonic wit. (“Disappear,” for instance, opens with the striking couplet of “I hear drowning is pleasant once you’ve swallowed enough / and a tiny orgasm can be felt in a cough.”)

The album kicks off with an oddly harmonic combination of tinkling chimes and surf-style guitar on “Mirror Ball,” a slyly worded riff on romantic uncertainty (“You are still my high mirror ball / I look at you and suddenly I’m a virgin in a dancehall”). The infectious title track provides an excellent showcase for the subtle virtuosity of O’Connor’s twelve-string guitar, which manages to evoke artists as disparate as Dick Dale, Johnny Marr and Tom Verlaine in the space of three mellow minutes. Low-key tracks like “Timeless” (“When I wake up next to you / I forget I have a day to be dressed for”) and “Lucky Again” sound like they could have been unearthed from Peter and Gordon’s back catalog, a legitimate compliment in this instance.

If All the Pleasures of the World doesn’t exactly blaze any new trails, it does dig into a corner of ‘60s pop that’s been largely ignored by the current revivalist bonanza. The past decade has seen a resurgence of old-school soul, psychedelia and garage rock, but precious few artists have paid much mind to the more accessible sounds of former chartbusters like The Buckinghams and The Association. The Crayon Fields know there’s no shame in taking a walk on the softer side, so long as the path never gets too mushy.

Recommended Tracks: “All the Pleasures of the World,” “Mirror Ball,” “Disappear”

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