I’m a big fan of Australia indie-popsters The Lucksmiths. For more than 15 years, this band has been pumping out brilliant albums, EPs, and singles of foot-tapping, clever, bright indie-pop, the kind of songs that make you want to sing along and listen to loudly while driving with the car window down on a beautiful Spring day. Led by singer/drummer Tali White, The Lucksmiths’ lyrics are as clever as they are fun, like a bouncier Weakerthans or less-emo Death Cab.
But for all that praise, I find myself loving Speak Up, the third album from The Guild League, which features White as the primary singer/songwriter, in a different way. The Lucksmiths have a fairly set sound; you know what you’re going to get on each album, and the songs tend to blend together. The Guild League’s members bring such a varied approach to Speak Up that I’m amazed this project isn’t discussed among the top echelon of popular indie-popsters, alongside Death Cab and Belle & Sebastian.
It’s possible the varying song styles on Speak Up may not be as appealing to some as they are to me. After all, you have a serious mix of approaches here, from the classic Australian and New Zealand pop on “If Not Now…” to the quiet and contemplative “The Idea” to the ska-pop of “Where’s the Colour?” with its trumpet and saxophone to the acoustic guitar-led folky approach to “Limited Express.” While White’s voice and his clever lyrics are always the centerpiece of Lucksmiths songs, The Guild League puts the focus on the retro-pop horns in “Brains” and fuzzed-out electric guitars on the nod to classic London rock, “17 Summer.” Favorite songs are the upbeat “Mouse Vs. Mountain,” with hand-claps and gang-sung moments; the lovely and moody “Dead Hour”; and the almost hauntingly pretty “Incandescent,” which features some lovely guitarwork and strings as well as the gorgeous addition of female vocals. And those trademark clever lyrics White is known for are evident on the album’s standout, “Suit Fits.”
I get the sense that The Guild League lets White stretch his musical chops. His voice sounds surprisingly confident in the diverse styles on Speak Up, and the Australian musicians backing him are clearly gifted, letting horns, bass, or strings shine on various tracks. There is something to love on each individual track on Speak Up, with a new favorite on each listen depending on your mood. That this album hit the US in December of 2008 is surely the only reason it didn’t appear on indie-pop aficionados’ year-end best-of lists. It would have been on mine for sure.