Cool, classicist familiars - The Pearlfishers, Heavy Blinkers, Camera Obscura and the Young Tradition among them - would have you believe that elegant has always been the apt imprimatur for pop music. And you, caught up in the headiness of Brill Building co-writes, banquette reserve and delicate, orchestral accompaniments, might impulsively decide that nothing could compare. You would be wrong of course. Le Concorde are equally edifying in their heart-whole sleekness, a perfect measure of sincere, modern craft and late-'80s eloquence.
Le Concorde are Stephen Becker's former Chicago indie-pop band Post Office in present tense. The previous lineup included Becker (guitar, voice), Larry O. Dean (guitar, voice), Jeff Greaves (drums, voice) and Jerry Morrow (bass, voice). Post Office released two records, Public Displays of Affection and Fables in Slang, in 1997 and 2001 respectively, on local label Spade Kitty Records. Adroitly associated (the dB's Chris Stamey produced the lauded sophomore effort) and keenly influenced (Tommy Keene, dB's, the Plimsouls, Velvet Crush, Sneakers, The Kinks and Shoes, to start), Post Office were jangly, smart and unwilling to concede the middling pop music signifiers: humorless, kitschy, bubble gum without melody.
Le Concorde are similarly well appointed. Becker has assembled an ideal, largely local collaborative for this affectionate six-song effort, recalling the nascent shimmer of electronic keyboards, ardent songwriting, and how pretty it was to think so. Allure and simplicity are found (again) in the mannered design of Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout and Stephen Duffy.
Joining Becker in part are John Ashton and Mars Williams of the Psychedelic Furs, Eric Chial (the Bon Mots), Mark Ruggiero (Light FM) and Phil Angotti (The Idea). Epicycle, the moniker of brothers Ellis and Tom Clark, produce and back the ensemble. Known for solicitous, layered arrangements and an apprised ear, the Clarks' production renders nuanced yet appreciable shadings, including singer/songwriter Kevin Tihista and post-Swell Maps periphery Chamber Strings and June & The Exit Wounds.
Le Concorde are burnished in kind, imparting near-evening music with breathy passes, synth halos and attendant electric guitar. Captivating are those who can lend sincerity without appearing provincial, out of time or otherwise. Letters never sent, the odd screen-idol trope and nods to the weather outside are tangible remnants of songwriters like Duffy, Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame and Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon.
Much like the added-to and reissued The Ballad of Ric Menck, this is a record from a musician who clearly loves music, mining what appeals as a listener and then conjuring the same fond glimmer once in the studio. Le Concorde's conceit is conveying the intimacy of those favorite artists, yet adding modern burbles and fluency, like field recordings from O'Hare airport ("People Mover") or a cool, reverb guitar charge with conjoining falsetto ("It's the Minor Chords That Kill You").
Summer is an ideal drape for songwriters. The swelter, the sounds, the rock 'n' roll convocation. "It's the Minor Chords That Kill You" cues with a nod to street-song currency and the vintage corona of a Fairlight CMI. The synthesizer warms and Becker entreats, "Summer's here and the time is right." The vocals are a hushed near-conspiracy, faint but inciting just the same. Time to forget about winter's constraints, join everyone outside where the party is: "It's the minor chords that kill you/ I'm losing them for summer." In contrast to the askance psychedelia of the Go-Betweens' "Summer Is Melting My Mind," there is no mistaking the crunchy, power-pop framework. This is more convivial with a swooping falsetto and the percussive bounding between drum and guitar. At fadeout, a lilting acoustic guitar joins programmed birdcalls in an ultramodern close to a summer evening, where everyone is happy to stay up late listening to cassettes.
"Sound of Your Name" is Frame's equal in the enveloping sentiency of a late-night phone call, alight with the same provocative saxophone that made the Psychedelic Furs so cool. Ruminations on love, distance and time. "The heart has reasons even reason cannot know/ And a chamber to contain/ The sound of your name." A radio is probably playing low in another room. Mirroring the delicacy of the rapport, the backing is kept low, leaving the sax and voice to suggest what's necessary.
"Parallel Lives" is Le Concorde's set piece, a resonant piano ballad that warms to its harmonica intro. Becker's vocals are easily at their most lorn as an electric keyboard affects a radiant regret: "I can't make it through these souvenirs/ Repatriate to where the moss is green and the melancholy's gentle." The spare richness is almost otherworldly, recalling Prefab Sprout, the Lilac Time and Nilsson.
Le Concorde are grand agents of the interior, equally taken with the smallish moments, ornate possibilities and sophisticated, relevant pop music (again).