The Soft Skin EP is the sun-dappled cousin to 2006's Black Sunday EP, a winsome creation of the Philadelphia group Brown Recluse. Forget the name, though; this indie-pop crew isn't remotely scary but is certainly fuzzy. Their Camera Obscura-meets-The Zombies sound is wholly infectious. Instead of the images of summer sun worship -- such as beach volleyball chicks and liberal slatherings of Coppertone -- the newly retooled sextet falls asleep on the refracted sunbeams of autumn.
The original duo of Timothy Meskers and Mark Saddlermire frame their lyrics with everyday imagery. Interrupted bookworm sessions with a dogeared book, sleeping in until noon and drowsy train rides populate the short disc. The relationship here are innocent yet somewhat damaged. One example would be "Rainy Saturday," where Meskers sings to his bedded lover about how "the pressures of the working world hang weekly like a mobile over us."
It a beautiful image that mutates the innocence of a child's toy into a crushing metaphor for an oblique adult life. The group may have ditched the "sings" part of their moniker on press releases, but the importance of the almighty vox goes beyond the faded typeface on the cover.
Meskers sings his fey lines with such meaning behind them, too. He perfectly sets the scene for the drowsy opening track, "Rotten Tangerines," by cooing a "good morning" like the "evaporating dreams" of the track's protagonist. He doesn't sound forced in the slightest, and his backing band underscores his inquisitive anecdotes about the "the naked trees and wilted flowers beneath the frost" on "Night Train" with a pastoral and slightly psychedelic gauze.
It's a akin to some of the flowery sunshine pop of Curt Boettcher or Brian Wilson's placid moments. And, of course, Brown Recluse often recalls the work of Slumberland Record's primary wellspring: those imitable C86 torch bearers such as Belle and Sebastian and, most recently, labelmates The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. The Soft Skin could have easily become a rote lesson in collecting old motifs in a hat and giving a good shake, but the sprite arrangements lilt as much as they bite. Maybe their name works after all.
If you're like me, you may find yourself humming the Tropicália-inflected chorus of "Rainy Saturday" or tapping your toes in the shower to the pattering waltz of "Rotten Tangerines." Also, the winter-themed "Night Train" has a great Hammond-and-trumpet line. The only real drawback of this 7-inch is that you crave for a more varied cadence or a punched-up single you know the six-piece could nail. Thankfully the group will release a full-length in early 2010. Winter will never feel so warm.
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