“It’s like being a world war one survivor watching your kids go off to world war two,” says Allo Darlin’s coy yet captivating singer, Elizabeth Morris, of watching tonight’s hopeful young indie-pop support acts, and she later pays tribute to fallen comrades-in-arms: “Shrag are calling it a day”. Yet, as critics gnash and guffaw over the supposed death of the guitar, down in its trenches the insular and thriving indie-pop scene hairclips its ears shut and keeps lobbing occasional grenades of greatness into the mainstream melee.
Tonight catches one such missile mid-explosion. In 2010′s self-titled debut and last year’s Europe, Allo Darlin’ have quietly released two impeccable albums of ukulele-based pop in which the everyday splinters of romance – the funfair trysts, Woody Allen film marathons, special songs and magical interrailing moments – are magnified. They are twee enough to make a sceptic choke, but the band have become relative giants in a scene where self-effacing charm, wit, modesty and melody are prized as highly as commercial radio prizes saccharine soul, Auto-Tune and clappable buttocks.
In the anti-glam garb of lumberjack shirt and jeans, Morris bounces and beams through a masterclass of modern cult pop that owes as much to the Smiths and Throwing Muses as it does to the sumptuous folk-pop of Belle and Sebastian and the Lilac Time. It brims with crossover potential. Silver Dollars is laced with the hard-gigging, positive-in-poverty authenticity that Frank Turner recently busked all the way to Wembley, while the infectious waltzer-twirls of The Polaroid Song, Kiss Your Lips and Neil Armstrong are enough to wean the Mumford masses on to the finer stuff.
And when Some People Say – referencing both Billy Bragg’s A New England and the heroic memory of Shrag – strips down to Morris’s fragile warble and mournful ukulele, it prompts a rapt silence worthy of a Bowie comeback. Call off the snipers, they’re going over the top.” The Guardian (link)
“Allo Darlin’s sound is less scattered than those name-checks might suggest, fitting squarely within a tradition that honors the Smiths and Belle and Sebastian above all. What sets them apart are Morris’ understated wit and the clear enthusiasm of her bandmates, who hurtle through every jangly chord change like they’re falling into a new romance.” Rolling Stone (link)
“The best new group in recent years from a pop tradition that attempts to counter what its members might perceive as the market-corroded fantasy of corporate pop and the detached insularity of many underground records. Led by Australian-born Elizabeth Morris, the London foursome established themselves as worthy heirs to Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura and the Sarah Records roster with their 2010 self-titled debut, all hummable melodies, clap-along rhythms, and poignantly turned phrases. Europe maintains these qualities and improves upon its predecessor in almost every way.” Pitchfork 8.1 (link)
“Europe is a wonderful record, a true progression for Allo Darlin’ as a band and for Elizabeth Morris as a songwriter. The further they stray out into the world, the more experience they have to look back on and the more times they fall in and out of love, the more and more potential they’ll fulfill. On this form the indie poppers will have to learn to share their beloved band, as Allo Darlin’ should soon be straddling the mainstream, giggling with glee, cheeks wet with tears.” The Line of Best Fit (link)
“Staggeringly intelligent and breathtakingly emotive, it’s pop music at its finest, contained not by genre or demographic boundaries. Morris has joined the likes of Jens Lekman, Stephin Merritt and Jonathan Richman in alternative pop music’s great storytellers that deserve better than the constraints of the indie-pop tag. Beautifully poignant, it feels less like a set of songs and more like a collection of memories you’ve yet to experience.” Music OMH (link)
“There’s still a sunny surf-pop vibe in tracks like “Northern Lights”, “The Letter” and “Still Young”, and playful, triumphant guitars in “Capricornia” and “Wonderland”. But on Europe, Allo Darlin’ sound bigger and fuller, and they’ve found a perfect balance where everyone’s heard but no one overpowers. Morris’s voice also has more muscle, and they’ve left a tiny bit of the twee-ness behind without losing an ounce of charm.” Emusic – Recommended Pick (link)
“For the last couple weeks I’ve spent a lot of time with the London-based group’s new record, Europe. Singer Elizabeth Morris has burrowed her way into my heart with these shimmering indie-pop songs, several of which may be quite popular by the warmer months… Europe is one of my favorite releases of the year”. USA Today – Album of the week (link)
“Allo Darlin’s songs are like the feel of your favourite jumper or the smell of the sofa at your nan’s house; they’re like the pub you used to go to when you were just 17, before they redecorated it and the old landlord with the rum sense of humour left; they’re like hot chocolate when it’s freezing outside and cola flavour freezepops in the middle of summer. They are warm and somehow familiar, but still fresh and exciting, like meeting up with an old friend from school, getting a bit drunk and finding yourself, quite unexpectedly, falling in love. You will want to take them back to your flat and make them an intimate part of your memories. They will make you feel at home, anywhere.” Robert Barry, The Quietus (link)
“Many bands make big, broad debut albums and their second efforts are often retreats. Allo Darlin’ the band with Allo Darlin’ the album have shot lower and hit higher, and now have open doors before them. The fashion wheel could turn too, and the kind of spirited ‘old school’ indie pop Allo Darlin’ make may be next year’s hot ticket – another reason, if one more were needed, to pay attention now.”
Robert Forster, The Monthly (link)
“The 10 songs on Allo Darlin’s self-titled debut album don’t rewrite the formula for wistful bedsit charm as much as show that it can still be carried out masterfully.”
“This debut is a joy from beginning to end, a fully-formed talent at the first attempt – as rare as it is welcome.” BBC (link)
“The real revelation of this year’s NYC Popfest came during the Friday night encore of Allo Darlin’, from London. First, that there was an encore at all: the middle act on a five-band lineup playing its first New York show rarely gets that privilege. But for its allotted half-hour at Don Hill’s, Allo Darlin’ had been terrific, witty and heartfelt, like a less moody Belle & Sebastian.” The New York Times (link)
“The fact that the debut album from Elizabeth Morris’s Allo Darlin’ has received near-universal critical acclaim is not surprising. Although it kind of is. Not because the quality to and ability to write an array of singable and hummable pop songs came from nowhere but more because it’s easy to get used to seeing very good bands going very unappreciated. Anyway, they’re second on in the triumvirate of acts on Friday. A smile is never far from Morris’s mouth and nor is a killer melody. ‘Polaroid’ and particularly ‘Dreaming’ turn my mood from early festival optimism to something near universal love for humanity backed by a very lovely setting sun. This says enough!” Drowned in Sound(link)
“From the very first track it’s clear they’ve got that ephemeral something that separates the pretty good from the truly magical.” The Fly (link)
“This is twee pop par excellence. Oh, don’t be put off by the use of the word ‘twee’ in these circumstances either. I too despise it with a vengeance, but sometimes it’s easier just to bow gracefully and acquiesce with the crowd. I didn’t even know this band existed 15 minutes ago, now I have a crush on them like every other former owner of a Pastels badge.” Everett True (link)
High-resolution images (all photos by Nik Vestberg)