One month ago, the long wait for the second album by up-and-coming New York City indie pop group Baskervilles, ended with the release of Twilight. More than the follow-up to the band's 2004 self-titled long player — and 2005 Midnight EP — it was the culmination of over a year-and-a-half's worth of creative publicity efforts, to promote the record.
The Internet-friendly plan, dubbed "Twilight 14," included giving fans free monthly downloads of each of the album's 14 tracks, on the Baskervilles website, starting in September 2006; all of which were housed in picture sleeves designed by contemporary artists. Some of them include Wilhem Sasnal, Lothar Hempel and Andrew Guenther. But on June 3, Baskervilles officially released all the music, with its corresponding and attention-grabbing artwork — one picture includes a banana-shaped moon with devil horns — on one CD.
While the new album’s title may suggest there would be loads of twee pop, dreamy soundscapes or dark music coming through your speakers, this is hardly the case as Baskervilles wants to put you in a happy, body-moving mood with their brand of perky indie pop. And it seems the band wants to do so in timely fashion, as the average length of each of the 14 songs is around three minutes, the album spanning just 42 minutes overall.
Twilight has an unmistakable modern feel to it but is without a doubt built upon influences old and not-so-old, from Lou Reed to Belle & Sebastian; it also shares similarities with 60s-minded bands like Apples In Stereo and has a little in common with the bouncy pop of Via Audio, who, like Baskervilles features alternating male/female vocal leads. It is also a record full of high spirits and energy, with songs about "being youthful and alive," as well as love and loss, according to Baskervilles.
With veteran producer Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Pavement, Baskervilles' 2004 debut LP) at the helm, the band's polished, versatile and straight-to-the-point song-craft has all the makings of a great record, which it is, for the most part.
Picking out a favorite track is not easy when the album has such a consistent run of substantially memorable material. It’s like picking out your favorite chocolate candy in a box full of similarly tasty sweets. There are too many fine choices to settle for just one. So all you can do is pick the preferred song of the moment, which so happens to be “Staying There For A While.” The back-and-forth string-hopping guitar melody that acts as the song’s main riff has indeed stayed in my head for a long while now.
Other stand-outs include album opener “A Little More Time,” with its mixture of strings, hand claps, acoustic guitar and piano flourishes, along with the summery Brit pop and horns-filled ditty "Caught In A Crosswalk”, led by vocalist/keyboardist Stephanie Finucane.
Elsewhere, the keys and brass-powered pop of the timely "Where Did My Summer Go?" is another highlight, as is “Smash,” which has a little bit of R.E.M. in its melodic flavor and vocals. With Easter guiding Baskervilles’ sound, this comes as no surprise. Also, the fine tracks “Have You Seen Them?” and “Sweet And Sour,” sung by vocalist/guitarist Rob Keith, have a noticeable Velvet Underground spirit to them.
One of the only tunes that musically matches what one might normally expect to be the mood of the album based on its title, “Slip A Little And Boom!” starts out with a spooky bass line and continues along with its dark, new wave vibe and delayed guitar effects — in the vein of early The Cure records or a young Dave "The Edge" Evans. However, it is also one of the CD's few unmemorable moments.
The only significant criticism of the album to be had has nothing to do with the music, but the timing of its release. For a sophomore effort that started to be revealed in September 2006, a June 2008 official release of the Twilight CD was a little too long to make fans wait for the whole collection. In just a few months, some of these songs will be two years old!
That said, Baskervilles’ Twilight is an all-around great and fun indie pop record that can be played from start to finish with hardly any hesitation. Having not heard of this band until now, I can’t say if it is a step up or down from its previous album and EP. However, when over 90% of the music here is undeniably enjoyable, it has to be at least as fine, if not better than anything the group has done before. And Mitch Easter’s dynamic and first-rate production on this record likely brought out the best in Baskervilles, as they touch on everything from playful modern indie pop, Sire new wave to 60s Brit pop.
So, whatever issues one may have with the timing of this release, intentional or unintentional, Twilight should be near the top of your list of Best Summer Records of 2008.
To listen to some Baskervilles music, go to their Myspace page, and to download "You Can Never Go Back," an exclusive non-album track that was part of the monthly singles project, visit their official website.
Recommended If You Like: Velvet Underground, Belle & Sebastian, Apples In Stereo, or indie Pop.