Co-founder of late-'70s Australian band the Go-Betweens, Robert Forster knows a thing or two about independent rock. Here is his description of UK breakout band Allo Darlin', something I understand fully after seeing the quartet live:
"The music they make is indie pop, a simple label but one hard to pin down in an ever-expanding indie scene that gobbles up genres and spits out mutations at a furious, internet-geared rate."
Yes, there's a touch of cynicism here—that Baby Boomer skepticism of the speedy digital age. Yet, more than anything, it's the perfectly reasonable, open-ended label for a band that's pushing buttons and turning dials within the sprawling indie-pop genre.
Allo Darlin' started with a girl on the ukulele. In many ways, that's how they ended up, Elizabeth Morris still very much in the lead, crafting jangling, carefree, coastal rock 'n' roll that speaks to her Australian upbringing. In the last few years, Morris has built a sturdy quartet, culminating with the April release of Europe, a record flowery in sound but dusted with an appropriate amount of darker lyrical realism.
Live, Allo Darlin' is the Cranberries on uppers, Morris' thick accent coming through every song to the point of readjusting syllables to make them more melodic. Her words appeared before a sailing backdrop of polished post-punk guitar layers and antsy percussion. She swayed about, an airy presence that matched her band's breezy presentation. Though I share Forster's loss of words in classifying Allo Darlin', I can't help but chase that old music writer cliche and box the band up myself. Allo Darlin' is kite-rock; nearly weightless with its grinning, wonderfully juvenile persona.
The four-piece's Mississippi Studios show mirrored the bliss Portland was experiencing from unseasonably warm weather. Sunny tunes like "Capricornia" fit perfectly, before a reddened crowd dressed in shorts and sleeveless tees. The best in the set was "Europe," an appropriate song to build an album around with its surfy nature and comforting, cold-side-of-the-pillow vocals.
"We went swimming in Lake Shasta on the way up," Morris' admitted, her bandmates already laughing. "Everybody complained about the cold except me."
It was this a proper segue to "Let's Go Swimming," a fluid track built around surging, tidal gusts of steel guitar. It was also the analogy Forster may have been pining for in his description of Allo Darlin'.