The Garden of Joy and The Well of Loneliness
Female Fantasy; 2012
I was an unabashed fan of Harlem and Hippies in 2010, so much so that I ranked the record as one of my 10 favorites that year. There was something so inexorably catchy and fun about that album – from the buzzing pop guitars to the snot-nosed post-adolescent attitude. The Austin, TX group evinced a mature, yet nostalgic sonic palette that ranged from ‘50s rock, ‘70s garage, and ‘80s no-wave, but did so with a hearty dose of freewheeling whimsy.
So, I was excited to hear that Michael Coomers from Harlem started a side project called Lace Curtains. Like most music critics, I wanted to hear what ideas would be brought from the primary outfit into the secondary, since the idea of a side project can be a slightly dubious one, in terms of artistic integrity and consistency of focus. We’ve all had frustrating listening experiences when it comes to someone from a treasured band making a solo record, and it doesn’t live up to the hype or expectations. Thankfully, curiously unwieldy title aside, The Garden of Joy and The Well of Loneliness does not disappoint.
All of the grit, fuzz, and snarl from Harlem have been distilled through this resplendent filter of ‘60s Merseybeat and psych-pop that hearkens to memories of The Beatles and The Monkees (well, if Michael Nesmith had gotten his way). While it would be easy to namedrop contemporary icons like Belle & Sebastian or of Montreal, I would rather draw parallels to Girls and Spoon. Specifically, the marriage of subtle jangle, surf rock textures, and snappy melodic grooves present this striking image of a tuneful pop genius just having fun making music, but doing so with a heightened sense of purpose.
This is vintage pop of the highest order. Cuts like “Bedroom Honesty,” “Tropic of Cancer,” “Cute Black Cloud,” and “Police Brutality” are crisp, tuneful, and straightforward, with just the slightest tinge of hippie vibes. The musicianship is adroit and on-point across the board, whether it’s the classy guitar licks and washed-out organ tones, or the fresh bass runs and warm drum fills. And in terms of arrangements, most of the songs are a comfortable andante, with just the right amount of occasional zip and pep to keep the tracks from blurring together into a mid-temp mush.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how Cooomers’ voice serves as the record’s glue, His world-weary, slightly disaffected tone manages to come across as not too despondent, which pares well with the jaunty, breezy music.
So, while Harlem remains on hiatus, Lace Curtains serves as an admirable placeholder that could easily transcend replacement status (if a sophomore album ever were to drop). The Garden of Joy and The Well of Loneliness sounds alternately timeless and quite modern, and does so with very little overt effort (the true hallmark of LOTS of behind-the-scenes effort).