If you’re ignorant to where London based band The Proper Ornaments took their name from you could be forgiven for thinking it’s possibly one of the most grandmother-reminding names in rock music today, conjuring up visions of your dear old gran’s collection of none-too-enthralling porcelain displays.
Thankfully it isn’t an OAP inspired name, coming instead from a 1967 song by one of the band’s chief influences, the relatively unknown soft psych pioneers The Free Design. And therein lies the first clue to how The Proper Ornaments sound: think ’60s psychedelic Byrdsian guitars and harmonious Crosby, Stills and Nash like vocal arrangements.
Built around the dual talents of Londoner James Hoare and Argentinian Max Claps, the tale of how the two met has to be one of the most ridiculous in the history of music, Claps being used as a decoy by a kleptomaniac girlfriend whilst she plundered a pair of boots (that were allegedly never actually nicked in the end due to the small matter of size incompatibility). Hoare was the blissfully unaware shop assistant being duped but upon seeing his chosen reading matter – a book about The Velvet Underground – Claps instead ended up bonding with a like minded Velvets fan, the two exchanging numbers in the process.
It wasn’t until 2010 that the duo released their debut single, Recalling: a mesmerising Velvets influenced short sharp burst of psychedelic pop that benefited from an infectious melody. Their first long player – Waiting For The Summer – finally arrived last year, a compilation of sorts. And just a year later the follow-up arrives.
Another lo-fi affair recorded on an 8-track, the latest collection has been preceded by lead track Summer’s Gone, a slow and fairly bland effort and at 14 tracks in total the album’s probably about three cuts too long. More slow and uninspiring dirge rises in the shape of Sun and the short guitar pickings of What Am I To Do? represent a couple of unnecessary additions with the latter going nowhere, lyrics aptly stating “I guess I’ll stay in bed another day”.
Many tracks are built around simple, unspectacular guitar hooks and this is where the band’s strengths lie. The Byrds’ chiming guitar sound is all over Ruby as a pleasant, twinkling guitar melody meets sparse percussion – just cymbals, in fact – and weaves them together with dreamy tandem vocals. Opener Gone is another strong cut, a warm four chord progression providing a solid backdrop for a catchy, repetitive twanging guitar hook and vocals that recall another Byrds influenced act, Ride, as do Don’t You Want To Know (What You’re Going To Be), Step Into The Cloud, Tire Me Out and Magazine. But for all the similarities with the Oxford band, The Proper Ornaments lack Mark Gardener’s vocal strength and Andy Bell’s dynamic guitaring ability.
The plodding Stereolab walks a slightly heavier path with dual guitars creating a highlight around another simple guitar hook whilst another heavier trudge – You Shouldn’t Have Gone – hints at American psychedelic revivalists The Brian Jonestown Massacre, the instrumental outro being decent if not quite at Anton Newcombe’s level.
The infectious hook from Now I Understand represents the album’s catchiest moment as chugging percussion blends with more captivating vocal harmonies but closer You’ll See sums up the majority of this collection, a pleasant plod with repetitive chorus that’s good, just not great, suggesting the duo are not stretching or pushing themselves.
Recent support slots for TOY and The Horrors suggest the band are highly regarded by their peers but for them to push on and reach similar levels for themselves, something needs to be added to the mix. Lengthier drawn out psych-jams similar to TOY could be one direction that would be an improvement, as would the addition of a guitar maestro, but without a special ingredient you can’t help but feel The Proper Ornaments will sadly find themselves consigned to granny’s shelf too soon, a fact you desperately don’t want to see happen, such is the potential hinted at throughout.