Minimum Chips: Lady Grey
In spite of some rather twee lyrics, Guther's 2003 I Know You Know beguiled with the innocent charm of its breezy songcraft and, wisely, this second collection of light-footed pop gems by Berlin residents Julia Guther and Berend Intelmann tampers little with the debut's formula. As fresh as the open air, Sundet (oddly, its open-mouthed cover photograph recalls Liz Phair's Exile In Guyville though similarities end there) sparkles with chiming guitar lattices, honey-dew vocals, and eccentric instrumental touches (handclaps, vibes, flutes, a faintly wheezing harmonica) as its 11 songs effortlessly switch from melancholy introversion to guitar-boosted euphoria.
A half minute into the opener “Still In This Town,” it's clear that Julia's fragile voice sings as sweetly as before while the song itself is a languid landscape of supple guitar shadings, vibes chimes, and cymbal showers. The album quietens slightly at its middle for a number of languorous ballads (“Throwing Thoughts,” “Who Was First”) and exits gracefully with “Two Minds In Between.” If there is a subtle change from the first to second album, it's Sundet's slightly more pronounced motorik character: powered by a beehive of fuzz guitars, the urgent propulsion of “Statements” vaguely echoes Stereolab; similarly, “Even When It's Not” suggests a poppier Stereolab, and the intertwined melodies in “Many Frames Per Moment” evoke the group too, as does the cool handclap that charts the song's unfurl and the ascending flutes that ride the wave of its climax.
On its Lady Grey debut (actually songs drawn from two Aussie-only EPs: 2004's Sound Asleep and 2005's Kitchen Tea Thankyou), Australian quintet Minimum Chips also draws heavily upon the ‘lab's sound (“Goodbye,” for instance, is textbook Stereolab psychedelia) but mixes in a healthy smattering of Broadcast swoon and lilt to go along with it. Minimum Chips often demonstrates a talent for elegant pop melody-making to rival Broadcast: the sultry opener “Cold Afternoon” smolders with Nicole Thibault's voice as silkily smooth as Trish Keenan's, and it's easy to bask in the splendor of the title cut's organ and guitar oasis. Elsewhere, “Alaska” boasts entrancing organ-vocal hooks that are as melancholy as they are beautiful, and the delectable “Know You Too Well” and “Snow Peas” are breezy too. Though it shares certain qualities with its more well-known kin, Minimum Chips' attack is looser, less taut, by comparison. All in all, Lady Grey is quite good if occasionally diminished by material that's decent but far from mind-blowing; instrumentals like “Black,” a meandering ‘60s-styled organ- and guitar-driven jam, and the Stereolab-styled “Awning,” for example, seem like filler when heard next to the stronger vocal pieces.