It doesn't sound like much of a compliment to describe an album as "background music." But Apartment Life, the second album from the New York band Ivy, makes a perfectly elegant soundtrack to day-to-day life. Dominique Durand, Ivy's French-born lead singer, mutters her words as much as she sings them, and the effect is a lot like Nico, or, more exactly, Brigitte Bardot on the old Serge Gainsbourg tune "Bonnie and Clyde." (If you've ever had the pleasure.)
RKCNDY, February 23
The effect is distant, cool, and worthy of a modern-day Godard: This band was born to appear on the soundtrack to the next remake of Breathless. The alluring Durand could even star.
When you turn up the volume and listen to the songs as songs, rather than as beautiful noise, you find that Durand sings pop tunes with rhythmic guitars, horns, and strings layered around her cool Frenchy voice. In a phone interview, Durand admits that there's a tension between the traditional pop song structure of Ivy's new album and the ambient sounds she makes when fooling around in the studio with her bandmates, Adam Schlesinger (also of critical darlings Fountains of Wayne) and Andy Chase. "The ambient thing is something I'm really dealing with," she says. "I'm always saying to Andy and Adam that I can't put texture into pop songs. I think it's easier to create ambience when the songs are longer and you can hold the notes."
Durand's nuanced voice and the strings featured on the album invite the inevitable appellation of "Cocktail Nation" band. "I don't agree with that name," says Durand. "Everybody's talking about lounge music, so they call us that because it's easy. We're hard to classify. We play traditional pop songs, but we're not alternative rock, not Top 40—so they call us cocktail music."
There's definitely something more interesting going on here than the rampant irony of '90s lounge. Ivy's music evokes the quiet, mopey, almost mod sophistication of '80s bands like the Style Council, the Smiths, and even the moody sounds of early Everything But the Girl. It's not a surprise to see that Lloyd Cole produced one of the tracks; Ivy falls into his camp of music for vaguely disaffected urban swingers in turtlenecks. Durand and I bonded over our distinctly uncool mutual love of Cole's music. "We toured with Lloyd two years ago and became friends," she says. "I have always loved his music. People say it's shit, but they are great songs, so simple and beautiful."
Ivy's Seattle date will be its first appearance on an eight-week tour. Schlesinger and Chase played all the instruments on the album (with guest appearances from James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins, fellow Fountains of Wayneers Chris Collingwood and Jody Porter, and members of Luna), so three extra musicians will round out the band on stage, including Posies drummer Brian Young.
It's hard to imagine what Ivy would sound like live. Durand thinks the album plays best "intimately at home, which is part of why we called it Apartment Life. It's not a party album." Ivy will try to re-create that intimate mood at its gig. Durand assures me, "I wouldn't say we rock."
Ivy page with sound clips