At 17, the average mortal might be studying to get into university Monday to Friday while trying to get into tacky nightclubs at the weekend, or maybe playing bass in an over-earnest three chord indie band that gets a 15-minute slot in the back room of the local pub. They wouldn’t, as a rule, be releasing a dizzyingly accomplished debut album that effortlessly distils many of the signature sounds of a musical era 25 years before they were born, aided only by their (barely) older sibling. But clearly The Lemon Twigs, comprised of Michael D’Addario and his 19-year-old brother Brian, are no normal teenagers.
Hailing from the wonderfully named Hicksville, Long Island, the duo come from a musical family and have been playing instruments since their infancy, taking advantage of their father’s recording equipment and album collection to hone their songwriting and performing skills and to develop an encyclopaedic understanding of pop’s past. After a period as child actors, they decided to focus purely on music, recording their first limited edition (100 copies) record while still at school, before signing to 4AD.
Do Hollywood, their first album proper, is a work of deeply impressive songcraft, musicianship and arranging that expertly mines the D’Addarios’ myriad formative influences. Which, it seems, are almost all from a five-year period between the years of 1970 and 1975, taking in the golden age of the confessional singer-songwriter, glam rock and the intricate, quasi-classical ambitions of ELO and early Queen. This impression is further reinforced by the pair’s spandex jumpsuits, long hair and vintage synthesizers – begging the question of whether The Lemon Twigs are, for all their undoubted abilities, essentially just a very polished pastiche of the past rather than artists with something genuinely new and different to offer.
The answer probably lies half way in between the two. When they get it right – as on the joyous energy of lead single These Words – it’s so infectious and stuffed full of ideas (xylophone solo, anyone?) that it’s impossible not to be swept along by The Lemon Twigs’ sheer insouciance. Likewise, they can slow down the pace and be more reflective too – How Lucky I Am, with its sweet, yearning melody and gorgeous harmonies, sounds like vintage Harry Nilsson, while Haroomata features some of the loveliest use of harpsichord this side of Bach.
On other occasions, though, Do Hollywood can sound a little forced and over-egged, with the songs sagging under the sheer weight of all the ingredients being spooned in together. Tempos shift and instruments switch at such a bewildering rate, it can sometimes be rather exhausting trying to keep up, and the weaker songs – for example As Long As We’re Together – fall flat without the engine of compelling tunefulness required to make such a complex craft take flight.
Throughout the record, the D’Addarios’ sheer musicality demands respect. The brothers write their songs separately initially before bringing all their ideas together, which probably accounts for the kaleidoscopic, stop start nature of many tracks as they weave the disparate elements together into new patterns. This is never better illustrated than on the closing A Great Snake, which winds its way from a Love-like gently psychedelic beginning to a bizarre bossa nova ending, via an epic space rock middle section. It’s utterly bonkers, but there’s so much raw talent there, once they’ve learnt to rein in their excesses The Lemon Twigs could go on to produce something truly special in the future.