13 courses of 60s-flavoured baroque pop on The Lemon Twigs’ harmony-drenched 4th album
Release Date: 5th May 2023
Label: Captured Tracks
Formats: CD, Vinyl (grape and black vinyl options), Download, Streaming
It’s highly likely that you’ll have come across The Lemon Twigs, the trade name of Long Island brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario. Since their 2016 debut album, Do Hollywood, they’ve been steadily increasing their fanbase and reputation, appearing at such high-profile festivals as Glastonbury, Coachella, Lollapalooza and Montreux along the way. Their songs have been covered by the likes of Roky Erickson, Jonathan Richman and Ronnie Wood and their long list of admirers includes names like Elton John, Todd Rundgren, Boy George, Laura Marling, Gary Brooker and Gilbert O’Sullivan. Their musical style has attracted a range of diverse descriptions, including baroque rock, which is the moniker that I’ll go along with to try and give an idea of what to expect from the guys’ latest intriguing offering, Everything Harmony.
Each of the brothers is a multi-instrumentalist. Brian plays guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, trumpet and violin and Michael chips in with guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and percussion. For their live performances, the brothers draft in the services of friends like Will Berman and James Richardson to flesh out their sound, but in the studio, they’re almost – but not quite – self-sufficient. They’re from a musical family; their father Ronnie played in Tommy Makem’s band and both brothers picked up stage experience whilst they were very young. They started to put The Lemon Twigs together whilst they were still at high school.
The Lemon Twigs pull in a wide range of influences to inform their music and readily acknowledge the inspiration they’ve received from – in particular – Simon & Garfunkel, Arthur Russell and Moondog. A listen to Everything Harmony also suggests that they’ve been more than ready to learn from artists like Brian Wilson, The Mamas and the Papas, and The Carpenters…
Above all else, it’s the force, clarity and precision of the brothers’ vocals that stand out. Their harmonies are outstanding, in a very Beach Boys or Simon & Garfunkel-ish way, and that’s a message that hits home right from the outset on opening track, When Winter Comes Around. One of the gentler songs on the album, it’s fresh and highly likeable – an encouraging indication of what might be in store.
The sound of The Beach Boys is never far away on Everything Harmony, and those jangly guitars and falsetto harmonies feature strongly on the bright, poppy, In My Head – one of the four singles that have already been taken from the album. For another of those singles, the album’s “teaser track,” Corner Of My Eye, the brothers fuse an Art Garfunkel vocal onto a vibes-laden backing that could have come direct from Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys to, I have to say, pretty marvellous effect.
Single No.3, Any Time Of Day, is a slice of sophisticated pop reminiscent of The Carpenters. The song has an interesting history, as The Lemon Twigs explain: “We were hired to write material and act in an interactive TV show about an imaginary 1970s brother band. We wrote a bunch of KISS-type songs for the soundtrack, plus this one. This one wasn’t right for the show, so we held it back. For a month in 2019, we filmed all eight episodes [of the show]. In the fallout of a high-profile lawsuit taken by the company against [streaming platform] Quibi, the show was shelved and remains on someone’s hard drive, if [it’s not been] completely erased to save space. The song’s about the cyclical nature of life. Everything goes on and on. Out with the old, in with the new!”
After the smooth sophistication of Any Time Of Day, the Big Star-inspired What You Were Doing sounds positively rough-around -the-edges. Packed with crashing guitars and multi-layered vocals, it’s another excellent song, and I love the coda of twangy bass and crashing drums. There’s more Garfunkel-ish vocal on the piano ballad I Don’t Belong To Me, a song with an interesting tune and structure that wanders around several unexpected places before the album reaches its baroque peak with Every Day is the Worst Day of My Life, the latest of the album’s four singles. The harmony vocals are spot-on, the acoustic guitars have a lot of presence and the hymn-like coda recalls the warm Californian sunshine of The Mamas and the Papas.
Described as one of the album’s “moments of desperation and isolation,” the wistful What Happens to a Heart is a big ballad with a quasi-orchestral backing. In one of the few occasions when the boys thought they needed bring in outside help, they took the decision to pile on the instrumentation, as Brian describes: “We were going for a 70s Spector vibe, along the lines of Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man. We tracked it with me on piano, Daryl Johns on electric bass and Michael and Andreas Valbuena both playing drums. I overdubbed a fretless bass, two pianos, two organs, harpsichord and celeste. The basic track was done in New York, and strings and French Horn were recorded in San Francisco. We got the Friction Quartet to overdub themselves about eight times to get a more symphonic sound. We also recorded about eight acoustics and bounced them down to two tracks; we did the same with the electric guitars.”
In complete contrast to the bombast of What Happens to a Heart, the dreamy Still It’s Not Enough is quiet and intimate. Or, at least it starts that way before the strings kick in and the song builds to an impressive and thoroughly enjoyable climax… And we stay with intimacy for Born to Be Lonely, a song that changes mood and time signature as the confessional verses interface with the brash 3 / 4 passages.
The bright, sunny Ghost Run Free is a chunk of vibrant, euphoric pop that reminds me strongly of The La’s There She Goes, and that vibrancy is retained for the album’s bouncy, punchy title track. But, perhaps, the album’s most thought-provoking moment comes with closing track, New To Me. Inspired by the brothers’ shared experience of loved ones suffering from the dreaded Alzheimer’s, it’s probably the album’s most intimate track with a pared-back acoustic guitar backing that allows the listener to concentrate on the thoughtful lyrics, delivered with yet more of those characteristic and wonderful harmonies. It’s a fitting end to a refreshing, enjoyable album.
In support of Everything Harmony, The Lemon Twigs will shortly be touring the EU and its temporarily estranged neighbour the UK. The tour starts in Amsterdam on May 20th. Full details are available here.
According to its Director, Ambar Navarro, the official video for Any Time of Day was “heavily inspired by 60s television live performances and focusing on the minimal set pieces, referencing The Carpenters, Tom Petty and especially The Monkees’ TV show and the absurdist/surreal comedy of that era.” Watch it here, and see what you think:
The Lemon Twigs online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube
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Great review John, have only listened to the album all the way through twice so far but looking forward to it growing on me over the weeks and months to come. All the best.
Many thanks Chris! Happy listening!!!