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[Warner Bros. Records]
Just before the chorus kicks in on ‘Too Much Silence’, the eighth effort on All Tvvins’ self-titled (no, really) debut album, a sweeping synth line starts to augment the track and by the time Conor Adams starts to belt out the refrain, a math-y, Foals-like guitar line morphs into a series of increasingly almighty power chords. It sounds as though it should be heard in 8-bit over the credits of a vintage arcade game, only it’s much warmer, and a lot more fun. Moments like this are scattered throughout the Dublin duo’s first record proper, and they seem to be having more fun than most at the first time of asking.
A ‘supergroup’ of sorts comprised of Conor Adams and Lar Kaye, All Tvvins have proven to be one of the more interesting groups to emerge from Dublin over the last few years. As such, IIVV stands as a marriage between the hipster pop of Adams former band The Cast of Cheers and Kaye’s now-defunct Adebisi Shank, an outfit whose music could more or less be described as a video game soundtrack on yokes. Generally, this melding of styles works more than it doesn’t, though the album feels painfully derivative when it stumbles
What becomes evident early on is that the songwriting partnership has smoothed and trimmed some of the rougher, and indeed more experimental, edges which would have been found in Adebisi Shank. ‘End Of The Day’ kicks off with some echoey and intricate guitar lines, but where Adebisi Shank probably would have been content to let that effect beat you over the head for several minutes, All Tvvins are able to quickly craft it into a credible pop song, one with peaks and valleys that genuinely do explode during the chorus. The same can be said for Kaye’s influence on Adams; the groove that sustains ‘Thank You’ is built upon and developed to the point where you can almost feel the amount of space in the studio.
Much has been made, not least by the band themselves, of the 80s influence on IIVV. Some of the best cuts – such as ‘Darkest Ocean’ and ‘The Call’, feel as though they should be played over a montage in a John Hughes film or during a particularly happy segment of Reeling In The Years. At times it’s almost too easy to see where the influences come from, from the Talking Heads guitar tones (‘These Four Words’), and the chord progressions that recall a U2 that could genuinely be described as post punk (‘End Of The Day’), that’s more compliment than complaint.
At the same time though, these 80-ism’s can be where IIVV starts to buckle. ‘Resurrect’ registers plainly as something that INXS or even U2 might have unveiled at the height of their commercial appeal, and the track feels as though it was designed by committee to get regular radio play. Elsewhere, on ‘The Call’, Kaye and Adams attempt to ape the classic Purple Rain Prince formula, only to end up sounding incredibly white. These tracks further highlight what is one of the more disappointing aspects of the album; the vocals. Even when the music gets very inventive, paying tribute to the past whilst remaining very much off it’s time, Adams can’t help but opt for the most obvious melody and idea. At best his voice is acceptable, if not a little bit tiresome over the course of the record. At worst, it feels as though he is imitating other singers.
This is disappointing, as it’s the case for some of the better tracks on the album, such as “Thank You”, where Adams seems to be doing his best Chris Martin, or ‘These Four Words’ which is so close to Bono that it actually makes me hope, little as he needs it, that he gets some kind of cheque for it. That said, the closing ‘Unbelievable’, a Born In The USA Springsteen nod, manages to pay tribute to that behemoth’s influence whilst also forging something completely new. In many ways, that’s exactly what IIVV is – something that somehow gazes into the past without ever becoming completely trapped by such an undertaking. All Tvvins’ debut might not be as consistently solid as its talent would suggest, but it’s a striking first blow.