January 23rd, 2015
This record should come with a warning sticker: SAVE FOR SUMMER. It is one of the sunniest albums you’ll hear all winter. Don’t believe me? Tune in to track three (“Back to You”). The guitars bounce and the organ swirls. Lyrics find the singer “hanging in the trees and singing out at the leaves”. By the time the chorus kicks in, I’m ready to drop whatever I’m doing and drive to the beach.
Twerps are a band from Melbourne, Australia. Range Anxiety is their second full-length, released on Merge Records. The album splits itself between the male and female guitar duo of Martin Frawley and Julia McFarlane. Musically, they follow in the long tradition of jangle pop, especially the 80’s Australian and New Zealand varieties (The Go-Betweens, The Clean, etc.).
Maybe being from Australia explains the sunny disposition to their sound. There isn’t one song here that doesn’t remind me of summer, whether it’s the shades-on stroll of “New Moves” or the sweltering crawl of “I Don’t Mind”. It’s everything you want in jangle pop.
But what does this album have to offer besides the jangle?
There are a few letdown moments, to be sure. Let’s get that out of the way. Opener and instrumental “House Keys” doesn’t feel necessary and sets a poor table for what’s to come. “White as Snow” falls flat, and the last of couple songs don’t hold up in quality to the bulk of the record.
What wins this album for me, however, is the simplicity of Twerps’ lyrics. Frawley and McFarlane manage to convey the usual themes – love and longing, doubt and indecision – in such an endearingly easy way. That’s the thing that sticks with you after repeated listens. Take “Stranger”, for instance. McFarlane sings as if on the phone, talking to a distanced friend or lover. She implores the other on the line to “Say what’s on your mind / ‘Cause I don’t wanna be a stranger”. She says in two lines what takes two hours elsewhere (I’m looking at you, rom-coms). It shows that Twerps are able to distill the essence of situations into two or three minute bursts of song. Each time I hear a new one, I stop, thinking, “Who hasn’t had those exact same thoughts, in a similar situation?” It’s no coincidence they have a song on here called “Simple Feelings”.
As the album progresses, you realize a growing dynamic between the Frawley-led and McFarlane-led songs. In general, McFarlane’s tunes are more positive, offering a stronger voice, whereas Frawley often seems self-conscious and unsure. For every “Have no fear on my shoulder” line by McFarlane, there’s a “We were in / We were out / We were always in doubt” lyric by Frawley (“Shoulders” and “Simple Feelings”, respectively). It brings a great emotional balance to the record. As a listener, I’m interested in Range Anxiety all the way through because collectively it’s neither too high nor too low. Twerps are a self-aware band, and they know how to hide their doubts behind sunny music and catchy hooks.
The best example of this is on the standout track “Back to You”. In it, Martin Frawley transforms his hangover feels into an examination of a difficult relationship. Amid those bouncing guitars and that swirling organ, Frawley admits, “Somebody out there is doing better than me / They’re feeling free, feeling free, feeling freer than me”. It’s an honest admission that doesn’t usually lend itself to such a buoyant-sounding song. But that’s the charm of Twerps. They produce music for the self-conscious, yet outwardly unfazed. Music for people like themselves.