Sound — 9
Introducing A Great Big Pile Of Leaves, Brooklyn's answer to indie rock and the woes of the modern world. This upbeat bunch have a name you won't often mistake, and anyone with an appetite for tricky guitar playing and sumptuous hooks ought to learn it. Their self-produced debut, "Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex?", was an expansive effort which achieved unprecedented catchiness with noodly lead guitars, the classic enemy of cohesion. Brilliant as it was, however, it did occasionally find itself getting a bit lost. Now a stable four-piece, the band have packed all the same sweetness into a neat half-hour LP and their new breed of summery pop is bite-sized and delicious.
Warm, textured guitar tones and a laid-back approach to vocals give "You're Always on My Mind" a cool, breezy feel while the thick rock mix allows them to make some noise when the need arises. Whether it's fiddly jazz guitar or a great exultation of beefy distortion the four of them will be hyperactive in their search for the next hook. Guitars and vocals are set on a slip 'n' slide across the major scale in search of the perfect tune, and more often than not they'll find it. The snappy math-rock of "Flying Fish" and freewheeling riffs of "Pet Mouse" are chock-full of perfectly-realised melodies but the album's high point is lead single "Snack Attack": a knockout track with a three-note hook you won't easily forget.
Working with a producer for the first time has meant a key development for the band; Ed Ackerson's mediating influence has tightened up the group dynamics and he's worked through each song to ensure that there's no time for anyone to mess about. The unabashed gleefulness of the album works because, for all its mathy flair, everybody works together for the good of the song. Even the semi-acoustic "Locus of Control," which lounges about dreamily for almost five minutes, hardly wastes a second in real terms as it ushers in the album's mellow but gratifying closing stages.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics are simple and unpretentious - not jubilant from start to finish but an accurate reflection of the band's ethos. "Egocentrism" and "Locus of Control" allow for a small release on the frustrations of everyday life but positivity still conquers all. "Flying Fish" and "Ambiversion" touch on relationships in more detail, and both are incredibly endearing for their honest and succinct summaries of how it feels to be young and not quite ready for the world - "I get so extroverted/but only when no one else is looking." There are hints of symbolism in there ("A well is for wishing/it's not for fishing") but good times and good food are only sparingly used as prisms for conveying anything else. For fans of real simplicity, "Pizzanomics" is about choosing the flat round dough over the rest of the world something we can all relate to.
Pete Weiland's unique singing style is personable and soothing, wandering about the lower ranges and taking each phrase as it comes. When he gets going he elongates his vowels, and can work anywhere up to seven notes a single word, breathing melodic life into the mix every time he opens his mouth. The backing vocals add plenty of value too, with subtle octave harmonies, irresistible coos on "Snack Attack" and a guest spot from Motion City Soundtrack's Justin Pierre on "Pet Mouse."
Overall Impression — 9
There are only a few things A Great Big Pile of Leaves care about: food, friends and music. The passion they put into each of these noble endeavours is obvious when you sit down with "You're Always on My Mind" but I reckon it's music that they've really got locked down now. From start to finish this album is a delight - you will feel good, and you will feel a bond with these honest, hard-working musicians as they make their way through the cruel, unforgiving world in blissful disregard of everything around them. Their style delivers simple pleasures in the most enjoyable, enriching and uplifting of ways, and that has to make this of the best albums of the year so far. Dig in.