We Can Start Over Again

I’m ending this blog as I began it: with an Ivy song. Thanks to all who have read, followed and/or bookmarked this site, but it’s time for me to focus on other endeavors:

Haunted Jukebox will continue as I make my way through the 100 Albums project; any other writing about film or pop culture will also end up there.

As for photography, I’ve begun a new Tumblr blog called Kriofske Pix.

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She’s Never Seen So Far

Almost exactly two years after I moved over to WordPress, this is post # 200. Since my first post was a then-new Ivy song, here’s my favorite song from them, along with an essay I wrote nine years ago on its parent album for the now-defunct site Splendid!, which finally seems to be offline for good…

Ivy / Apartment Life / Atlantic (1997)
originally published in Splendid! Magazine, March 2004

Now that Fountains of Wayne has found some long-deserved commercial success, I hope that Ivy doesn’t get relegated to the status of “Adam Schlesinger’s other band”.  Made up of Schlesinger, Adam Chase and Parisian-born vocalist Dominique Durand, Ivy released their full-length debut, Realistic, one year before FoW put out theirs.  Two years later, they signed to a major label and released this follow-up.  An exponential leap over the previous, somewhat tentative album, Apartment Life already looks like a lost classic.  I impulsively purchased it from a used bin a few years back, thinking I hadn’t heard anything off it.  That is, until I recognized one track (“This Is the Day”) from the There’s Something About Mary soundtrack, another (“I’ve Got A Feeling”) from Orange County, and a few heard in various clothing shops.

This bright, sometimes bittersweet collection now seems like part of a mid-to-late ‘90s lounge-pop movement, along with Saint Etienne’s Good Humor and The Cardigans’ Life.  However, despite Durand’s distinctive vocal (like Catherine Deneuve singing in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, only crossed with The Breeders’ Kim and Kelley Deal), there’s something resolutely American about this album.  Its three-minute pop songs capture the ennui of living in New York City (where Ivy is based), enduring the mendacity of day-to-day living with desire and dreams of occasionally, if only temporarily, breaking free.  I can’t think of a better introduction to this band than the album opener, “The Best Thing”.  As crisply strummed acoustics and three-chord keyboard lines give way to loud, crunching guitars in the chorus, Durand sings of a young, newly liberated protagonist on the verge of discovering a world she never knew existed (“She’s driving fast / she took the family car / she’s getting high / she’s never seen so far.”)

The album continues with one ringing, joyous, sun-soaked song after another.  “I’ve Got A Feeling” optimistically yearns for a new love.  With a swing in its step and an arsenal of jazzy horns, “This Is The Day” grasps a rare opportunity with urgency and ecstasy (listen for how playfully Durand precedes the song’s chorus with the line, “she’s never com-ing back”).  The electric bossa-nova of “I Get The Message” has an acquiescent chorus that’s as simple and compelling as the best ABBA (“I don’t know what to do / whether I leave or stay with you / I get the message either way.”)  Like “The Best Thing”, the glorious “Get Out of The City” cascades by in a rush of crystalline hooks and blissful, colorful observations (“All the windows down / take a look around / everything is melting in the sun / nothing’s getting done.”)

If the album’s more upbeat, outgoing tracks instantly grab you, it’s the relatively somber, reflective ones that really sink in over time.  The calmer, quietly glistening “Never Do That Again” opens with a couplet that marks a graceful shift from the previous tracks’ giddiness: “The cat’s on the carpet / the phone doesn’t work / I hate when it’s quiet / it means that you hurt.”  “Baker” manages to make a Bacharach-ian trumpet and violin sound fresh, adequately complementing the track’s elegant character sketch of loneliness.  In contrast, the loud, fuzzed-toned dream pop of “You Don’t Know Anything” sounds like the band Garbage was always trying to be, as Durand dismisses a former lover with a surprising (if still subdued) venom.  Very few bands could sell a song with a title and chorus of “Ba Ba Ba”, but Ivy manage to do it, starting off all gentle like the Velvet Underground’s “Stephanie Says” until gradually morphing into a feedback-heavy drone.

The escape plotted in “Get Out of The City” has consequences made apparent in the moodier three tracks that follow.  “These Are The Things About You” coats pensive, suspicious thoughts in an easygoing, laid back gleam.  Desperation starts to mount in the vaguely menacing, fabulously titled “Quick, Painless and Easy”, but that’s only a prelude to the exquisite closer, “Back In Our Town”.  Like a sobering, down-to-Earth counterpart to Apartment Life’s more carefree moments, it signs off with a series of overlapping vocals, including some by former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha (whose voice blends in perfectly with Durand’s).   As she plainly, repeatedly, devastatingly sings “Everything is all right,” her words linger long after the song slowly fades.

I’ve listened to this album alone in my own apartment on a rainy afternoon, at three in the morning while wrestling with insomnia, and while peacefully strolling along the Sunset Cliffs at San Diego’s shore.  I mention these memories because they are forever linked to Apartment Life.  The album’s themes are so common, their execution so effortless, their resonance so very deep, whatever the setting or situation.  Since this album, Ivy has released Long Distance (2001), a far less consistent set that nonetheless contains their greatest song, the lush, lulling “Edge of The Ocean”, and Guestroom (2002), a cute collection of cover versions.  But even if they never record their own “Stacy’s Mom” or are forever thought of as someone’s side project, Ivy have already made a near-perfect record that’s awfully hard to top.

Postscript (2013): On some days, Apartment Life could be my all-time favorite album. Realistic has grown on me considerably in the last decade to the point where it’s now my second favorite Ivy album. In the years since I wrote this, the band has released only two additional works: In The Clear (2005), which is an essential sequel in tone and feel to Apartment Life (particularly “Tess Don’t Tell”, “Five In The Morning” and “Thinking About You”), and All Hours (2011), a little patchy and more electronic-oriented, but not without gems (“Distant Lights”, “Make It So Hard”, “Lost In The Sun”).