Baskervilles | Twilight
Most Likely To: possess a special charm for New Yorkers.
Unlike Australia’s The Lucksmiths, whose clever wordplay twists tongues to the fore, Harlem’s Baskervilles stake their claim to the indie-pop keen lyricism throne more by virtue of their general observations than through dazzling syntactic convolutions. That said, there is no band out there that can write a song about New York City the way Baskervilles can: astutely, humorously, accurately, and lovingly.
On this, their sophomore full-length, the quartet drops couplets like bombs. When Rob Keith rhymes “I met Gigi / In Chelsea” it’s tough to hold back a smile if you’ve ever been to the gay-friendly neighborhood’s numerous art galleries. Whether she’s a real character or just a caricature of one, the band paints scenes that are so easy to imagine that it doesn’t really matter. It never feels like lampooning, either, since the absurdities of life in the big city are dealt with appreciatively.
One of the nicest developments from their first to second records, however, is the band’s increased comfort stepping outside of these endearing takes on life in the city and toward more expressive lyricism and more diverse subject matter. Most of the songs are still staged as vignettes, moments forever captured in song, frozen as they are like air bubbles in an ice cube. Not surprisingly, some of the finest moments on Twilight occur when these two strands overlap, when the tableaux and the emotional textures of New York interweave unobtrusively.
Take, for instance, the opening “Caught in a Crosswalk,” whose pedestrian protagonist finds themselves frozen in an intersection facing the ominous red, blinking hand, wondering if they will make it across the street in time. “I don’t know if I can make it to the other side,” sings Stephanie Finucane, before slyly adding, “I’m not ready to go to the other side.”
Musically, Baskervilles find themselves treading roughly the same territory as on their other releases. The occasional synthesized string flourish aside, things take a fairly straightforward tack and while there is very little about the band’s sound that is remarkable, their songs are always strong and well composed.
Listening to Twilight, Baskervilles reminded me of what might have happened had Dan Treacy not been the victim of so many psychological foibles and had taken the Television Personalities in a decidedly more upbeat direction so many years ago. Both acts have the same talent for capturing the essence of a moment through details that would escape most folks. Later, I learned that Keith had organized the 2004 benefit for Treacy that essentially relaunched the Television Personalities and led to the latter’s signing with Domino Records. It makes perfect sense, that fateful intersection; it’s almost like a recognition of their mutually trenchant eye for life. Here’s hoping that this album finds some welcoming ears beyond the five boroughs.
Listen to “Caught in a Crosswalk” by Baskervilles below: