Allo Darlin’, Europe
2012's first pop masterpiece
“You said, ‘A record is not just a record, records can hold memories/ All these records sound the same to me, and I’m full up with memory,’” Elizabeth Morris sings on “My Sweet Friend,” the last track of Allo Darlin’s sophomore album Europe. The U.K. indiepop band’s 2010 self-titled debut was about the anticipation and excitement of new love: Morris sang about kissing on Ferris wheels, wondered where she’d end up after the bar closed, and insisted, “One fine day, I’m gonna be your girl.” Europe has the same emotional intimacy and nuance of its predecessor, but instead of sitting on the edge of her seat waiting for something to happen, this time Morris is writing from a distance, reflecting on love that’s come and gone.
Many of Europe‘s songs begin with an idyllic setup — in the sun with a bottle of wine, in a car with the windows down, walking down a street in New York — with Morris implying that everything was better back then. In opening track “Neil Armstrong,” she sings, “Then why did you say that you miss a simpler time?/ Well, so do I, and I find myself pining for you.” In “Some People Say,” she wishes “some things would stay the same,” while remembering a perfect day and wondering what her then-lover is doing now.
The record also tells the story of music’s power in a relationship — how certain songs suddenly Mean Something when you think you might be in love. In “Some People Say,” a slow number with strings and bending lap steel guitar, Morris references “a song that to me has a hidden meaning,” and in “The Letter,” she looks back on a failed relationship, singing, “But we can’t help the things we choose/ And I pictured you singing the Silver Jews.” This arc shows how much the band has matured in the last couple years, and you can hear it in their sound as well. There’s still a sunny surf-pop vibe in tracks like “Northern Lights,” “The Letter” and “Still Young,” and playful, triumphant guitars in “Capricornia” and “Wonderland.” But on Europe, Allo Darlin’ sound bigger and fuller, and they’ve found a perfect balance where everyone’s heard but no one overpowers. Morris’s voice also has more muscle, and they’ve left a tiny bit of the twee-ness behind without losing an ounce of charm.
But while part of what makes Europe so special is its grandiosity, its best song is its most simple. “Tallulah,” played only on ukulele, begins in a car with bad music on the radio, until Morris’s partner finds a cassette containing the Go-Betweens album Tallulah. Later, they’re in a bar with a shitty DJ, so they flee to another one that’s playing Toots and the Maytals. With letters written on magazine pages and postcards, and thoughts of what could have been, it’s an anthem for all of us romantic saps who do things like make a mental playlist of songs and bands it’ll be hard to listen to after the breakup. In that song she also sings, “I’m wondering if/ I’ve already heard/ all the songs that’ll mean something/ and I’m wondering if/ I’ve already met/ all the people that’ll mean something.” In a way, those lines sum up all of Europe: There’s no way to tell whether life would have been better had things worked out differently, or if the best is still yet to come, or if everything is perfect the way it is right now.