When Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon says you’ve got the goods, chances are you’ve got the goods. So when Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon says you’re way better at writing lyrics than he is, guess what, he may just be right. That’s exactly what happened with It’s All Aquatic by Amateur Love, the first album to be released by Vernon’s new imprint at Jagjaguar called Chigliak. The concept behind the record label is that Vernon wanted to redistribute older unsung local bands that were well deserving of praise but never got any. Vernon grew up with the front man and songwriter of Amateur Love and always considered him to be way better at music than he, in fact making the record label in part was a way for Vernon to distribute the old music of one of his best friends. In reality It’s All Aquatic was first recorded and released in 2003 but arriving on our doorsteps here in 2012, it’s no wonder at all why Vernon had such admiration for Amateur Love. The album that It’s All Aquatic reminds me most of was another album from 2003, The Wren’s excellent The Meadowlands. The Meadowlands was an album that came with a history, it had been something like ten years since The Wrens had last released an album and the new one was just that; a new but worn down mature sound. It’s All Aquatic has a history too, and that only adds to how much I appreciate this album. The fact that no one ever gave these guys a chance nine years ago is a damn shame, but it makes them so much easier to like now. I mean it’s a great story, a friend giving a band that never got any attention all the attention that they could ever need, and on top of that the music is good.
Amatuer Love floats around in your earspace like pool water does after a swim. There is something hazy about the presentation on the whole, but its not the vocals or the guitars and drums, it’s the electronic synth. While many bands that I would describe as hazy have lo-fi production value but that’s not the case here at all. The vocals on Its All Aquatic are as clear as day, they glimmer like light at the bottom of a pool seen through goggles. Actually I would say that the production quality is quite good, everything about the album is well balanced and set to make the vocals really pop. The songs feature synth and revolve around electric ambience, but it’s a much smoother sound than a lot of other bands that use synth. As I said before it’s the synth that gives it that hazy feeling. If it weren’t their, the songs might not be much to write home about, but they really add a little something extra to each track. Underneath that the drums are really very driving, taking the otherwise bear composition of the songs and keeping things moving. Some of the best tracks though feature the electronics and have them slowly come to the front of the songscape turning the drums into a fading dreamy noise.
There is something nostalgic about the album, im not sure why. Its probably the cover though, a semi grainy photo depicting too young kids in a pool, the girl embarrassed and covering her face, the boy donning a smile. Its fun, the album reeks of longing at some points, particularly the third song, and at other times lamentation. Its retrospective and at the same time very bounded by modernity. The singer capitalizes this with his excellent lyrics, Justin Vernon has called them “better than Neil Young’s” and he really might not be that far off. Stylistically though they aren’t really anything like Young, they remind me a little of Vampire Weekend whose wit seeps through on each and every line. Even so, I would have to say that the lyrics here are a little emotionally sharper than Vampire Weekend’s lyrics, they serve as the key emotional drive for the album. At times the songs themselves take over though at the emotional helm, and there is nothing wrong with that, the tracks catch you off guard when they suddenly take over like at the end of The Number.
On the whole the tracks are remarkably consistent, each one of them carries itself a little differently than the last, but never in a way that would make me call one song better than another, a little like either of the last two Beach House albums. Not unlike Beach House the album glimmers, but where they are more ambient, Amateur Love is more pop. It’s a trade off worth making, and defiantly worth a listen. Its just a shame that Amateur Love somehow never got the fame that they deserved, but what are you going to do. Summer days, innocence, and Amateur Love may not last forever, but that’s what makes them worth having.