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Playful Yet Sophisticated, Breezy Yet Bittersweet

The Brunettes' members must grow weary of being dismissed as a "fun" or "cute" pop band. But their tongue-in-cheek pop displays deeper dichotomies: playful yet sophisticated, quirky yet thoughtful, breezy yet bittersweet. Playing with those differences, the New Zealand-based pair — Jonathan Bree and Heather Mansfield — has cultivated a musical identity that feels both modern and out of time.

On The Brunettes' new Structure and Cosmetics, the group builds upon the disc's two import-only predecessors. Featuring stylized '60s chamber-pop instrumentation — everything from banjo and Mellotron to clarinet and glockenspiel — The Brunettes' glossy production and entangled vocal harmonies make the songs sound richer and more developed than their older works.

"Her Hairagami Set," while lyrically minimalist, hints of schoolyard crushes, complete with quaint call-and-response boy-girl interplay. Beginning with Mansfield singing about her various hairstyles, the childlike piano patterns and bouncy rhythms effectively match the mood. But as they slide into Bree's more somber chorus, the music grows darker. Backed by a bed of spacious strings and synths, his voice here adopts a slight Lou Reed inflection, reacting as if admiring the object of his affection from afar. When the two voices eventually intersect in a final lilting chorus of "oohs," The Brunettes' unassuming, charismatic sound nicely offsets the nostalgic heartache under the surface.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Mike Katzif
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