So, when I was originally pitching this review to the man upstairs, I had the brilliant idea of doing a cut-and-paste of Mr P’s 2009 review of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s eponymous debut and calling it a day.
“You already did the legwork on this one, boss,” I said. “Any inventory that I try to draw up of Again and Again’s strengths and weaknesses is going to wind up looking an awful lot like that piece. Listen to this: ‘I can’t fault their enthusiasm — they just want to have fun, writing songs they love to play — but the album just reinforces the idea that musical style doesn’t get lost over time, it gets appropriated, stripped, hybridized, mashed, steamrolled.’ That totally applies! Or how about this one? ‘And my problem isn’t that they fail to approximate… the jangly guitars and melodicism of C86 bands, it’s that legitimizing the band by drawing tenuous connections to artists past is like lauding every band that sounds like The Beatles.’ Spot on again. I couldn’t have said it better.”
Mr P paused for a moment, stroking the snow-white longhaired Persian cat in his lap. “So… you would just copy my whole review and submit it as your own? What about the stuff that doesn’t really apply? Like what I said about their lyrics? Or my commentary on the way the band was being received in other areas of the music press?”
“But, see,” I exclaimed, “what could be more fitting? How better to comment upon the sort of generic hijacking they’re engaging in? By commandeering a previously written review, I can directly illustrate the sort of thoughtless… uh, ahistoricism that… um…”
“Would you at least replace ‘The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’ with the name of the band you’re reviewing?” he asked.
“You’re getting hung up on details,” I sighed. “Why are you trying to compromise my vision?”
A lot was said in the furious back and forth that ensued. The word “lazy” came up. Someone dropped a $25 word like “plagiarism.” I might have heard something like “clean out your desk.” The long and short of it is, my idea was just too radical, so here it goes:
Brilliant Colors is an all-girl trio from San Francisco, but they sound like they could be an all-girl trio from Glasgow circa 1988. Again and Again, the band’s sophomore album, abandons the punky guitar rips that characterized 2009’s Introducing in favor of the hazy melodicism forecasted by their intervening string of singles. In describing their latest effort, one would inevitably pull out the familiar litany of precursors (The Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, Black Tambourine) and point to their place among the current crop of imitators and revivalists (Crystal Stilts, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Kids on a Crime Spree). Like their contemporaries, they credibly reproduce the sounds that were pioneered and honed to a gleaming razor edge by their forbearers, suffocating catchy three-chord hooks in woozy, dream-like reverb, but Brilliant Colors forsake the gothic gloom of Crystal Stilts and the post-apocalyptic doo-wop of Kids on a Crime Spree for an ebullience that brings them closer to those sun-addled Californians, Best Coast.
Unfortunately, just like with Best Coast (and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, for that matter), Brilliant Colors have difficulty maintaining their charm for the duration of an entire album. Taken individually some of the tracks — like the bouncy “Value Lines” or “Cult Face,” with a chorus of oohs and aahs that slams the brakes on the song’s charging rhythm — sound lush and vibrant. When experienced all at once, though, the relentlessly echoing guitar and singer Jess Scott’s twee, girlish voice cause the whole thing to bleed together into a somewhat pleasant mush. There just isn’t enough going on in these songs to distinguish them from one another, let alone from the other bands working within the same conventions. Even the washed-out soft-focus band photo on the cover reminds me of one of their Slumberland peers.
It’s not like Again and Again is a terrible album; in fact, it’s an almost uniformly enjoyable one. It’s just hard to make an argument for it. People hungry for more jangly, reverb-y guitars are going get their money’s worth out of the record, but it’s difficult to recommend to anyone else, especially when there have already been better albums in this style released earlier this year. Again and Again constitutes an act of derivation without any significant innovation and, as such, deserves to be relegated to the “if you’re into that sort of thing” bin.