On their fourth full-length album, Paper Dolls, The Brunettes continue to shine and polish their trademark twee-pop. Depending on what mood you’re in, you’ll either find the New Zealand duo’s twinkle-sparkle wall of sound loveable, or nauseating.
Paper Dolls may sound pretty damn good if you’re nonchalant. The colorful electro-pop with sweet naïve voice of Heather Mansfield and smooth comforting croons of Jonathan Bree could be the soundtrack of the moment. You’ll find The Brunettes’ cheerleading bubble-gum pop fun, and even charming, as you sing along and/or dance to the music beats driven by drum machines, glockenspiels and xylophones, starting with "In Colours", followed by "Red Rollerskates", and "The Crime Machine". Bree and Mansfield do give you breaks to catch your breath with "Paper Dolls", about halfway through the album; and just before the final track on "If I", as the duo exchange possible sentimental scenarios of each other’s death. In less than 35 minutes, you’ll find yourself, hearing the piano chime of the opening track again. Oh – how short and sweet, just like the complacency you feel at the moment.
When you’re pensive, The Brunettes could sound like the buzzing fly that you just can’t seem to catch. The world poses so many issues and the duo sings about a guy pulling his asthmatic girlfriend on red roller skates and fantasizing about committing crimes in the 1920s. You refuse to find the irony in the Auckland-based pair’s whimsical lyrics, and their precision craftsmanship of layering instruments, sound apathetic to the human pathos. When you’re this moody, Bree’s vocals come across as a pretentious bookworm scenester, and Mansfield’s like a thirty-year-old housewife disguised as a piggy tailed twelve-year-old. The Brunettes’ electronic ‘80s pop, channeling ‘50s thick wall of sound reaches its apex of syrupy sweetness with the final song, "Thank You", as they literally thank the people affecting their lives. By this time, you’re saying, "Thank you but no thanks" to the sugary confected playground songs. And you wonder how they caught the attention of The Shins (QRO live review), who probably couldn’t make an album like Paper Dolls, even in their dreams.
The Brunettes’ previous album, Structures & Cosmetics, released by Sub Pop, contained more spatial and introspective overtones, while still retaining their playful innocence. Paper Dolls may sound regressive, compared to the sophistication of their prior effort. Yet one could argue that Bree and Mansfield took a little detour on Structures & Cosmetics and returned to perfect their roots for their latest effort. All you fun-loving, carefree souls would welcome Paper Dolls to your collection. For the tortured souls, longing for company to your misery, listen with caution: there is irony in there – somewhere.