Albums Reviews and Streams

Subtlety Is Its Own Reward on Here Comes a City, Third Album by Canadian Duo Memphis


Singer-songwriter Torquil Campbell trades in opposites. With Canadian indie pop group Stars, he's often at his most grandiloquent, as befits the band's often sweeping, grandiose sound. With Memphis -- a Canadian indie pop duo with longtime friend Chris Dumont -- Campbell is subtle, as befits the combo's more intimate jazz-tinged jangle pop.

Subtlety can be its own reward, but Campbell surely knows as well as anyone that it's not a virtue that translates well commercially. That makes Memphis' third album and first in five years, Here Comes a City, a welcome treat. While the duo's previous work pre-dates Stars' rise to a certain level of international notoriety, no one would have been surprised if Memphis never produced any new material.

For certain pop aesthetes, the fact that this album was titled after a song by Australian pop legends The Go-Betweens will be enough to recommend it and they, likely, won't be disappointed. There are pretty melodies and catchy choruses in abundance, offset by ambient electronic touches and a couple of atmospheric mostly-instrumentals.

There are lyrics on loneliness -- the pleasure and the pain of it -- and the power of love, especially on "Apocalypse Pop Song" wherein Campbell sings "It's the end of the world today... because we said so!" and "No matter what they take away, our love will live for one more day."

Love's opposites rear their heads, too. There's hate in the kiss-off song "Wait!" as Campbell lambastes a former lover with "You were a sycophant, a social climber, a good-for-nothing two-timer" and indifference on "Way Past Caring," with the narrator being just that.

Throughout, the music is delicate and insistent in all the right places. This is "adult contemporary" pop divested of the baggage of those two words. It's intelligent, charming and light years from pap. Long live such subtlety.

Here Comes a City is available now.

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Thomas Bond
Contact: Thomas Bond