The story goes that more than 10 years ago Parisian-born Dominique Durand came to the United States to learn how to speak English. She had never sung before and had no aspirations to front a band. But Adam Schlesinger must have known what he had on his hands. Schlesinger, who would later display his awesome ability to create catchy pop tributes (as displayed when he penned the Beatle-drenched “That Thing You Do!” for the Tom Hanks film of the same name as an assignment), must have heard one breathy, heavily accented word from Dominique’s mouth and knew that he had a shot at forming his own private Velvet Underground. The trio was rounded out with Andy Chase and Ivy was born.
Of course, the Underground’s Nico was from Germany whereas Durand is from France, and it is unfair to compare most bands with the Velvets. Still, Durand’s deliberate vocal delivery charms in the same way that Nico’s did, and the production wizards behind Ivy’s latest record, “In The Clear” create dynamic soundscapes that may have even made Warhol smile.
The album lifts off with “Nothing But The Sky,” emerging with a heavy piano progression that leads into a blast of distorted guitars. Lyrically, the tune is filled with only 14 words that are repeated from Durand's airy throat. But the minimalist approach works wonders here. With production this good, you can keep things more than interesting with less.
From there, the album’s compass points directly at England as it effortlessly blends the sounds of the strongest synth and guitar pop coming from that region in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Tracks like “Thinking About You” bounce along on the same sugary fuel that propelled many a New Order song as well as those belonging to its splinter group, The Other Two (which also had a female on lead vocals). Ivy even enlisted New Order producer Steve Osborne for additional production and mixing, but interestingly, the most New Orderish tracks are produced by Chase and Schlessinger. Osborne helps create the eerie audio space of “Four in the Morning” (that feels reminiscent of The Motels’ “Only the Lonely”) and the expertly layered “Tess Don't Tell.”
Pop references continue to whir by, especially on the Pet Shop Boys-inspired “Keep Moving.” But the combination of Durand's unique style and the masterful production keeps the album from seeping into rehash.
Trying on the various musical hats of pop greats of yesteryear is an easy task for the talents of Schlessinger and company, but filling their shoes is not. With this record, Ivy laces those doggies up good and tight and may even be noticing that they are feeling a bit snug.
For more information on Ivy, visit http://www.thebandivy.com/.
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Note: In truth, Andy Chase met Dominique Durand first.