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Ivy - Long Distance
(Nettwerk)

How to take a concept and execute it properly is possibly the central conundrum of popular music. For every fully realized work of genius, how many failed experiments lay on the floor in many shattered shards? It’s true in all walks of life, perhaps, but entertainment is one of those worlds, like politics, where failed bids at anything can be held up for endless public ridicule.

In the pop world, though, one of the strangest fates is to be ignored. Their Satanic Majesties Request, Self-Portrait, Metal Machine Music, whatever—reviled by many listeners and loved by many others, but none have been forgotten. With the amount of music available to the public growing each year at a rate that can’t help but intimidate anyone who cares about keeping up with what’s new, whilst the concentration of the mainstream media fosters an atmosphere where woefully insufficient lip-service style coverage is complacently accepted, the sad, sobering reality is that almost everything out there is relatively unknown to almost everyone.

Makes it sound like we’re stuck in an entertainment vacuum, bringing to mind Ross Perot’s "giant sucking sound." Of course we’re not. But we are stuck. Stuck in a merry-go-round of the same same same same same stuff. Complaints about the state of the pop charts—kind of like complains about the Grammys—are decades old, nothing new, and pointless anyway. Still and all, the rut our culture is in now is so deep that we must climb on top of one another just to see what else is out there. Every song that reaches #1 in Billboard stays there forever, seemingly. The release of the new Destiny’s Child album actually becomes a highly anticipated event in some corners. Songs, aggressively popular songs, just don’t go away, when if they had any deceny or taste at all, they would. Vulgarly bad post-grunge aggro, a decadent hip-hop culture, squeeky clean country, bland R&B singers, faux Latin teases, and prefab teen bands…

All right, we’ve all heard this rant before, we’ve all burdened somebody with a similar harangue, ten times over. The point is that, in music, it’s sad when something good goes unnoticed, and it’s downright tragic when a work of genius is basically invisible to the masses. Again, not a new concept for pop obsessives, who comprise the bulk of this magazine’s audience. The difference here, today, in regards to the new album by Ivy entitled Long Distance, the third full-length long player by this stylish New York-based group, is that the record in question could well form a perfect blueprint for a breathtakingly great new style of music that could enjoy a healthy popularity if given the right exposure. And it’s sad to think that this record, even though it hasn’t been released yet in the U.S. as of this writing (it’s available as a Japanese import on EastWest), is almost certainly destined to linger lost in not just the commercial but also the critical shuffle.

And it’s not like this is inaccessible stuff. Ivy’s four-minute space-age bachelorette pad pop songs may be a bit mellower than they were on their last outing, 1997’s sublime Apartment Life, but no more so than ubiquities like Dido’s "Thank You" or Moby’s "Porcelain." From the opening tones of "Undertow" that start this album like a stately heralding of royalty, it is clear from the outset that this is important music. It can trumpet its own arrival because, yes, it is that good. Smart American lounge-pop with an unmistakeable Euro bent—sultry singer Dominique Durand is French, after all—is what this is, if you want to classify it. But where a group like Stereolab often steers a similar course into territory that could only be called Obscura, and gets critical worship as a matter of course, Ivy has kept it all about the song, teetered ever so slightly toward a mainstream sound, and been ruthlessly ignored by much of the rock cognoscenti. The songs are about something, too, and while that’s not always necessary, here it’s a nice touch. There are many lovey-dovey moments ("Let’s Stay Inside," "While We’re In Love," "I Think Of You"), a few tales of scorn ("Blame It On Yourself," "Lucy Doesn’t Love You"), and even a brilliant retooling of The Blow Monkeys’ "Digging Your Scene." The pop sense is never ever lost.

A true studio band of multi-instrumentalists rounded out by Andy Chase and Adam Schlesinger, who self-produced this sonic treat, Ivy makes music for all seasons and moods. They doesn’t languish in melancholy, nor do they go for the shiny happy jugular. These songs are soothing and inspiring if you’re falling in or out of love, if you’re not sure where you stand—in any sense, if you’re feeling thoughtful, if you’re on a bus, if it’s raining, if you’re on the beach, if you’re reading long-winded rock criticism, whateva whateva. If someone could just use a snippet of one of these tunes in an Eminem song or a Nordstrom commercial, Ivy could rise to the occasion and conquer a nice segment of the American pop audience. Roll over Mark Goodman, tell Carson Daly the news.

YEAH YEAH YEAH, 2001