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Long Distance

Ivy, how do I love thee? Well, let me tell you.

About the time their debut EP, Lately, came out in 1995, I went to see Lloyd Cole, and Ivy opened the show. I knew nothing of them at all, but I was immediately attached to their music. There could have been a couple of reasons why: was it chanteuse Dominique Durand’s lovely French accented coo? Was it the beautiful, melodic guitar passages? Was it that ethereal pop vibe that I so thrive on? Whatever the core reason (all three, I think), I waited with baited breath for their debut album, Realistic. I fell in love again…then was left waiting for more. Then two years later, we were treated to their stunning follow-up, Apartment Life. Durand, multi-dimensional musician Andy Chase and Fountains Of Wayne leader Adam Schlesinger avoided the sophomore jinx and laid out a platter full of crisp ethereal pop tunes colored with horns and organs…but not so much that it ruined the essence of the tunes.

Us fans had to wait almost three years for this latest record, Long Distance. Much has happened for this band in the meantime. Durand and Chase had a child. The studio they were recording in burned down, taking everything with it. Schlesinger worked on the Wayne project, and produced other records. All these things have helped Ivy hone their craft even further, creating another solid record of beautifully emotion packed numbers that still retain the fun that we fans have come to expect. Long Distance is not a copycat record of Apartment Life, though. The songs show a bit of maturity of a band that has held together through all the changes and growing pains of life. The record contains less overt pop tunes then its predecessor, but the soul and feeling that brought them underground darling status still remains intact.

The record opens up with the pastoral tones of "Undertow." You’ll find the characteristic Ivy floating groove layered with a lilting guitar refrain. Durand’s vocals have aged like a fine wine, allowing all the subtle textures of her delivery come into their own. It’s wonderful to think about the progression of Durand’s voice…she had never sung until Chase persuaded her to sing for his Ivy project. Her smooth French accent adds that sultry angle that us romantics find so swooning. When she sings you can’t fight the undertow, you agree, and you don’t care. You let the song swallow you up…oh, how I’ve missed this band! "Disappointed" brings up the tempo and the pop a touch, but it doesn’t reach the plateau that prior tunes like "No Guarantee" or "I Get The Message" did. But that’s okay. The muted leading guitar line and slight keyboard infections make up for it. You will, though, have it stick in your head as much as their "poppier" songs. If you’re looking for a "Get Out Of The City" or "Don’t Believe A Word" type of tune, look no further than "Lucy Doesn’t Love You." The jangly guitar passage is punctuated by the re-introduction of horns…you know, those almost Sixties-esque horns that used to slip into pop tunes. Definitely the jumpiest tune on the album. Another uptempo song, "Blame It On Yourself," is brilliantly lit by with a "happy" guitar and an almost Peter Hook styled bass pattern. Durand’s voice smiles on this one, aiding the airy "drive along the coast with the top down" dreamscape. Captivating and escapist tunes like "Edge Of The Ocean" and "Hideaway" are the norm on the record. "Hideaway" features Durand’s sensually emotive vocals soaring and teasing you along the chorus, coupled with a comfortingly lush use of song structure. That’s the strength of the band…their ability to wash over you and ease the mind, bringing on a wonderfully erotic state of euphoria from deep within the notes.

You’ll notice more keyboard on this record. Besides the colorings on "Disappointed", songs like "While We’re In Love" and "Let’s Stay Inside" use the keyboard to fill out the sound more than ever before, adding to the comforting ethereal grooviness. "While We’re…" employs a swirling background with the keys to augment the almost Bread-esque guitar leads. Durand’s tale of the darker side of being in love (i.e.: the bad things that happen in a relationship, no matter how good it can be) almost slips by you in the beautiful melange of sound. "Inside" accents the acoustic guitar, but drips the sleepy tale with wistful keyboard and a touch more of those tasteful horns. Yes, Ms. Durand…I’d stay inside with you too. Friend and Ivy aficionado James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) appears on "Midnight Sun". (Remember, he appeared on two Apartment Life tunes.) This very Ivy number welcomes violin and copious amounts of tactfully placed organ to achieve its goals, and does so quite effortlessly. "One More Last Kiss" snakes along with strategically placed guitar passages and a sweeping chorus that makes Durand’s silky reading of the longing lyrics touch your soul. The tune that takes the furthest departure from their tried and true practice is "Worry About You", which introduces some scant Portishead styled ethereal-dub characteristics. The song dips into that style occasionally while still keeping the Ivy identity, using the elements discretely within their traditional framework. The record is topped off by a rendition of the Blow Monkey’s eighties pop classic, "Digging Your Scene." Durand’s treatment seems so natural…if you didn’t know the original, you’d think it was written with her vocals in mind.

Long Distance has definitely been worth the wait. It’s escapist and all encompassing sound makes it a rival of "best of artist" picks. While not as blatantly poppy, Long Distance continues to dwell on what makes this band so captivating in the first place…lush melodies, sultry vocals, and enough dreaminess to achieve what music is really all about…escapism. Need an afternoon break from the grind? Having that "special someone" over for dinner? Want a mature sound that’s still conducive to a late night "smoke-out", look no further than Long Distance.

- tom topkoff

Track Listing:

  1. Undertow
  2. Disappointed
  3. Edge Of The Ocean
  4. Blame It On Yourself
  5. While We’re In Love
  6. Lucy Doesn’t Love You
  7. Worry About You
  8. Let’s Stay Inside
  9. Midnight Sun
  10. I Think Of You
  11. Hideaway
  12. One More Last Kiss
  13. Digging Your Scene

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