Belle & Sebastian have been playing in a different league for some time now. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are now doing stadium rock. Los Campesinos! and The Wave Pictures are drinking too much beer. Camera Obscura are playing hard to get, and, to add insult to injury, the Lucksmiths won't be getting back together any time soon. No, these aren't good times for twee, but luckily there's one huge band ready to defend the principles of the genre: Allo Darlin’. Directed by Elizabeth Morris (who some might remember from Tender Trap), they released a debut album in 2010 that made Jarvis Cocker himself raise his eyebrows. They did it without inventing anything new, simply injecting the sound with new freshness and depth, which made them the great white hope of British indie.
“Europe”, their return, is already one of the great records of this year. Ten beauties with real and palpable emotions, stroking your face with their soft jangle breeze. Warm like on their first one, maybe a bit more heartbroken, “the songs have an awareness of a darker place but end up coming out the other side”, according to Elizabeth. In other words, they're songs that talk sincerely about beautiful things, and about things that are not that beautiful; postcards that, like forgotten snapshots one can suddenly stumble upon, trigger memories that are beautiful but that can’t ever be relived again; pieces that instantly start on a search for people from the past, reaching Sweden and Elizabeth's native Australia (“Capricornia”), the Caribbean, and London suffering from the riots (“This is life, this is living”), even New York and the moon (“Neil Armstrong”). “Europe” is a record travelling lightly. It starts from a very specific place to go to several utopian spots, always optimistic without wanting to be (“Still Young”); it seems destined to transcend the idea of a Europe that's been old and tired for some time now.
Exquisite when it comes to measuring the melancholy and passion, with a smile or a shoulder always available, “Europe” possesses a beauty that doesn't need any embellishments to conquer the listener. Nevertheless, the group decided to broaden their lyrical content with an extra element, which turns out to be essential. It first rears its head on “Some People Say”, when Elizabeth asks herself if the person she has in the distance feels the same as she does when hearing certain songs, which from then on illustrates the stories of almost every song with the memory of, er, other songs. Yes, I'm talking about the exploring of pop itself as a catalyst of the memory, as a refuge, as a sort of fraternal glue, and about massaging that idea with the necessary tact and care. A prime example are the lyrics of “My Sweet Friend” (with phrases like “A record is not just a record, a record can hold memories”), though the most crushing track of the lot in that sense is “Tallulah”, on which Elizabeth asks her ukulele if she's already heard all the songs destined to mean something in her life.
Does this meta-musical excuse ring a bell? Well, you're right: with the permission of Saint Etienne's “Words And Music”, this is the biggest pop declaration of love of the season. Because, just like their London neighbours (who, by the way, started with similar twee rules to build their present sound), Allo Darlin’ smartly interiorise everything they hear in order to come up with a new and radiant sound that isn't necessarily modern, but which is very rejuvenating. It is dreamy music, with melodies and guitars that are up there with The Smiths and early R.E.M, sometimes referring to Silver Jews (“The Letter”) and then The Go-Betweens (“Tallulah”), featuring adorable acoustic borders and caresses indebted to the best episodes of Sarah. It's humble and true music which, if you're not careful, could break your heart.