Though they released three albums over the course of their relatively short career, Allo Darlin’s self-titled debut remains their strongest work. It’s an album I can only describe as ‘lovely’. Listening to it is like meeting up with an old friend. From spring to late summer it’s essential listening for me. But rather than the hazy, washed-out, reverb-drenched textures which usually characterise sun-soaked music, Allo Darlin’ relies on an entirely different palette – glockenspiels, flutes, handclaps, lilting vocals, slide guitar, the notorious ukulele. And with the exception of the slower tracks, ‘Heartbeat Chilli’ and ‘Let’s Go Swimming’, the whole album has a bounciness which, though energetic, never crosses over into frenzy.
Opener ‘Dreaming’ begins with the bass and lead guitar stuttering in octaves, before Elizabeth Morris’s vocals enter. Lyrically, the song is exactly what you’d expect – a gentle look at young love, neither overly cheery nor gloomy. Monster Bobby of the Pipettes provides additional vocals, the juxtaposition of his baritone against Morris recalling Calvin Johnson’s duet with Amelia Fletcher on Heavenly’s ‘C is the Heavenly Option’. (Interestingly enough, Morris and Fletcher were in Tender Trap together).
Allo Darlin’ don’t merely hint at their influences though – they outright namedrop them. In ‘If Loneliness Was Art’, Morris quotes Scottish band the Just Joans, saying ‘you’re oh so sensitive’. On ‘Kiss Your Lips’ the band takes part in an ecstatic singalong to the chorus of Weezer’s ‘El Scorcho’. And during ‘My Heart is a Drummer’, Morris laments how she’s ‘not allowed’ to like Graceland because it’s too mainstream.
The second track, ‘The Polaroid Song’, might include my favourite lyric on the album. Bemoaning the disappearance of Polaroid, Morris asks, ‘will we still look happy when we’re not super-overexposed?’ On one level, it reveals a sort of insecurity about looking good in photos. On another level, it parallels the concerns with the development of twee-pop over the years. Just as Morris wonders whether Polaroid’s ‘super-overexposure’ obscures our real emotions in photographs, so too did people wonder whether the aesthetics of twee-pop were merely style over substance. Once the genre ‘matured’ and became more polished, would it still work? Were the amateur, shambling performances and the lo-fi recordings simply affectations to hide lacklustre songwriting behind?
One aspect of the album which I imagine might turn some people off is that it seems very cliché from a certain perspective. Allo Darlin’ unabashedly embraces many of the ideals and hobbies which have become – in the eyes of popular media, at least – emblematic of hipsterdom/alternative culture/whatever over the last decade. Our narrator wants to ‘dance on her own’ to records. She meets people who ‘eat organic and buy green electricity’. Her friend has been stockpiling Polaroid film ‘before it all starts expiring’. There is nothing wrong with any of these things of course, but I can’t deny that they’re exactly the kind of things you can envisage Adam Driver’s fedora-wearing, artisanal-ice-cream-eating character in While We’re Young waxing lyrical about. Allo Darlin’ are well aware of this though. In ‘Let’s Go Swimming’, Morris muses on the ‘punks in Camden’ and ‘the hipsters in Shoreditch’. And the aforesaid guilty mention of Graceland is clearly meant as a criticism of alternative culture’s dismissal of everything mainstream. People might tell her that Graceland is not obscure enough to be valued, but Morris secretly know ‘it’s everybody’s favourite’.
Another possible turn-off is the prevalence of the ukulele. I love a bit of ukulele myself, but it has garnered an unfortunate reputation. Even in 2010, the instrument was starting to be used as shorthand for ‘kooky’ or ‘quirky’. Noah and the Whale’s ‘5 Years Time’ had been a hit a few years earlier. Ryan Gosling had just played one in Blue Valentine. And the ukulele is all over Allo Darlin’s debut. It’s one of the things which helps it stand apart from its influences. Whereas the backbone of the vast majority of 80s and 90s twee-pop had been the jangly guitar, Allo Darlin’ substituted this for the ukulele. Not that this was necessarily an entirely aesthetic decision. It could be simply that Morris is more comfortable on the instrument, given that she describes herself as ‘definitely a better ukulele player than […] a guitar player’ . ‘Heartbeat Chilli’ might be the uke’s moment in the spotlight, but it is doggedly chugging away almost everywhere else on the album, sprinkling a lick here or there. Its sound is crucial in forming the overall mood of the album. Adding a ukulele instantly helps brighten things up. It means even the album’s most despondent moments are given silver linings.
That sense of hope is the impression I’m always left with after listening to Allo Darlin’. Other albums from that period – Veronica Falls, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – have a similar effect on me. I’m not sure whether this is just because I’m nostalgic for that particular time, or whether there was actually a cohesive sound across indie-pop at that point. I’m not going to pretend I had any awareness of Allo Darlin’s existence at the time it came out, but looking back it seems as if Allo Darlin’s first album surfaced during a transitional period for 21st century indie-pop. Groups who had championed the genre in the mid-2000s – Camera Obscura, Fishboy, Los Campesinos! – were by now well-established, while artists such as Frankie Cosmos and Sidney Gish were yet to emerge from Bandcamp obscurity. Allo Darlin’s musical and lyrical homages to its predecessors means it simultaneously feels like a natural progression from earlier indie-pop, and an anticipation of the self-awareness future artists would exhibit.
 ‘Indietracks interview #14: Allo Darlin’,’ Indietracks Festival, June 7 2010.