Debuting with a couple of 7″ singles is doing it the old-fashioned way, and the old-fashioned way is back. I’m not sure why it took so long, but with blogs playing the roll of zines, vinyl offering a real alternative to MP3 ubiquity as well as bringing back investment in music, and the massive scaling up of potential listeners (and customers) via the Internet, it’s become easier to press 500 singles, sell most of them, and create a buzz for a full-length release (without even doing much touring). Brooklyn duo Minks are doing it the old-fashioned way, with two great singles preceding the release of their full length debut By the Hedge, out on the modest but successful bedroom musician label Captured Tracks. Like their path to success, their music treads down a few well-worn paths, mixing up mope rock, twee, and dream pop into a sometimes perky, but always fetchingly murky stew.
Lead-up singles “Funeral Song” and “Ophelia”, both included here, raised the bar high for a Minks full-length, and By the Hedge sees the group sidestepping that hedge of expectation with confidence and swagger. While the singles themselves weren’t of a piece – with the goofy attenuated Dylan vocals and late-80’s Cure homage of the former sounding like a rush compared to the slinky, sexy graveyard pop of the latter – they did suggest Minks were a pop band who put their ideas in the foreground. Though the synthy dream pop of “Kusmi”, the twee pop of “Cemetery Rain”, and hypnotic noise pop of “Bruises” don’t disabuse the notion that Minks are a top notch pop band, the album is filled out with a depth and variety which eschews pure pop for moodier concoctions. The pulsing mantra and noir-ish guitar of the tense “Life at Dusk” and the angelic merry-go-round of “Our Ritual” slow the backbeat, stretching time into more introspective shapes, all while maintaining the fun gloom and glum sheen of 80’s Brit-pop.
While the pop songs pull you in, it’s the deeper cuts that build this into a fantastic album. “Out of Tune” blends a Kim Deal baseline with the moody slide of Mazzy Star and seven layers of depth in background voices, building a beautifully bittersweet paranoia, while “Indian Ocean” – the only instrumental on the album – sways and sparkles majestically, revealing several shades of emotion. It also reveals Kilfoyle as a heck of a guitar player. The scale-jumping surf guitar solo on “Ophelia” and the ecstatic fingerings of the outro on “Cemetery Rain” are technically dazzling but don’t play like grandstanding solos, instead providing fun instrumental breaks. That Kilfoyle keeps this talent at bay over most of a full-length is testament to his dedication to the song form as an effective variety of sounds working together toward a common goal. His vision of the album is similarly relational, and this debut brims with variety and skill, coming off with a complex personality at turns exuberantly earnest, darkly melancholy, and dreamily coy. It may be enamored with sounds of the past, but By the Hedge has a classic, timeless feel that will make it fit right in with Power, Corruption & Lies; Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me; Earth, Sun, Moon; and Talk, Talk, Talk in your five-disc changer (and without all the titular commas).