Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Lo those many years ago, when everything that appeared on the venerable 120 Minutes of MTV moved me to purchase and consume, when Fountains of Wayne were into floppier hair, radiation vibing and reading Playboy on a couch, a band from the UK named Space - in a song that rivaled everything that Kula Shaker and the Dandy Warhols were doing and still did so with a synthesized steel drum sound that those in Aruba and Grenada would have shunned - made a claim that New Zealand band The Brunettes might or might not agree with. They sang, in heavily accented jerking fragments, "The female of the species is more deadly than the males," likening women to blood-thirsting praying mantis' and it could be a suggestion to the allure of the fairer/deadly sex in the eyes of the hungry and always susceptible men.
The Brunettes, primarily fronted by Heather Mansfield and Jonathan Bree, don't go down the evil/or road that suggests one side has it out for the other, but there has always been a male and female divide that will always defy comprehension. The way that this pair approaches this issue of opposites attracting and commonalities attracting just as easily - while still remaining completely baffled by the actions and thought processes of the other - is one of cute, playful and whimsical fascination that will never, from the appearance of things, be satiated. They will go on, forever and an eternity, rolling with the punches, shaking their heads and marveling at the absurdities that get played off as rational, normal exchange. The Mars and the Venus relationship was broached in the band's 2004 album title (Mars Loves Venus) and it comes up consistently in everything they write - a canyon of fodder, really. There's no doubt that it's mystifying and aggravating and still, Mansfield and Bree go at it in the way that Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray) looks at and studies the dent-recognizing, jumbled brain of Dudley Heinsbergen in "The Royal Tenenbaums" - giddy with all of the oddities and confusions that will arise with their overturning of the rocks and their further involvement with all interactions.
They don't necessarily see or sing about the gloomy manners in which men and women are sometimes known to treat each other, these are the ones that more often than not get written into the lyrics of songs for the pain and the commiseration that seems to get through to all is a best selling quality. They prefer to essentially look at the man and the woman as generally compatible, whether they fight it or whether they like to even believe that. And it does seem to be truer than most would like to give the statement credit for. Those divorces that people can't stay away from and the negatives that always make more noise overshadow the stories of those happily married or together for decades and decades, outweighing all of their strife and marital or relationship struggle with the times of laughter and true love and appreciation. You can find these people who embrace the differences. They're out there.
The Brunettes' latest album, Structure & Cosmetics -- their first on Seattle's Sup Pop Records, is a celebration of two very different versions of people (men and women) and how they go about fitting together, for the desire is always to fit together. There is long-standing need for companionship and Mansfield and Bree explore this exhaustively. They write songs about wanting to call the other baby and sugar and honey - no matter the clichÃ©d implications or the sappy rolling of eyes that it might induce. They allow their twee and lazy, but glorious meadowland pop to plant their wet and affectionate kisses all over the napes of your neck and smear your cheeks with their girly lipstick. Structure & Cosmetics sweetly covers the landscape of holding hands and missing someone's perfect company, presenting itself as the marriage between cold and melty ice cream and hot fudge - one of the leading culprits to that melting. It's an unavoidable and delicious marriage, but there's also so much harmonious interlocking that goes into the complexities of the interaction of males and females and Mansfield and Bree couldn't be more clear in describing the attraction than they are in "Stereo (Mono Mono)," a song that lets the man/papa mono be the sound coming from the right ear and the woman be the sound coming from the left ear of a headphone. They're coming from different places, they meet up in the middle and they sound best in tandem. It's the call and the response - where are you? I'm over here. It's a lonely, but triumphant thought for the two things that will never know if they can or can't live without the other
Musicians playing on these tracks:
Jonathan Bree - guitar, vocals
Heather Mansfield - piano, glockenspiel, vocals & harmonica
John Parker - drums, backing vocals
Hayden East - bass guitar, guitar, backing vocals
Stephen Hart - guitar, backing vocals
Harry Cundy - trumpet, egg shaker
Raymond Richards - pedal steel
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