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Harper Lee - Everything's Going To Be OK

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Artist: Harper Lee

Album: Everything's Going To Be OK

Label: Matinee

Review date: Mar. 6, 2003

Bleak Pop From Brighton


By all logic, my heartstrings should be sick of being tugged by now. After several winters of listening to little but albums like Elliott Smith's either/or and a brief stint as my high school's resident emo kid (I was to be later supplanted by a sophomore who wore Buddy Holly glasses with no frames, but that's a story for another time), you would think I'd be ready to get over the time my cat died and just move on with life. But that's just the problem; logic doesn't work on my heartstrings, and I know of very few people who can claim differently. That, near as I can tell, is why albums like Everything's Going To Be OK, the second full-length from Brighton duo Harper Lee, still sound good to me.

We've all heard this sort of music before. It smacks of dreary afternoons in a town that's beginning to seem too small, romances that just refuse to sort themselves out, loneliness bordering on misery. It smacks of New Order, the Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Cure. Keris Howard (Brighter, Trembling Blue Stars) laments and apologizes in a helplessly detached murmur that would make Morrissey proud, while the lush accompaniment he and Laura Bridge (Hood, Kicker) provide ambles along listlessly. The music itself is pretty, if not innovative; the sort of wistful, brooding pop started by groups like Felt and the Field Mice and kept in practice by Belle and Sebastian and the like. Brushed drums and dark bass pulse underneath layered synth and guitar lines, minor chord upon minor chord in and out of pastoral reverb. Were it not for the soul-crushing gravity of the lyrics, Everything's Going To Be OK might almost sound like it believed its own name.

But, in fact, the album's title is its greatest irony, as all emotion contained therein has been abandoned in favor of uncompromising hopelessness. It starts innocuously enough on "Miserable Town"; while Howard considers "sharpen[ing] pencils till the end of time," there seems to be a glimmer of hope that he might snap out of that provincial rut and look on the bright side. But by "Unreciprocated" ("The crushing dawn of realisation"), and from then on, what hope remained gets lost in a mire of regret, claustrophobia, and depressing finality ("This is the last stop / The emptiest platform / The final walk home"). After the penultimate downer "I Can Bear This No Longer," however, comes a surprising upturn in "This Better Life." With a comparatively upbeat jangle and lyrics like "Someday I will find / This better life/ I know I've got to find it," it's easy to be fooled until the last moment, when Howard sums up his vulnerable feelings with "I'm scared they'll get to you / Get to you," and the song cuts out suddenly. Is all lost again? Probably.

Histrionic and heavy-handed? Yes, but the sadness on Everything's Going To Be OK remains vivid and compelling enough to stir my empathies. If nothing else, Harper Lee take a charming melodic approach to a formula that's been all but beaten into the ground, creating a record that can be a soundtrack to days of wallowing just as easily as a nice listen on a blustery afternoon. Whether or not you believe in the title is up to you.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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