The Courtneys’ first self-titled album was released in 2013, and since then the all-girl trio has released a slew of punchy singles and music videos before finding their home at Flying Nun Records, the independent New Zealand label through which they have finally graced us with their sophomore album, The Courtneys II.
Self-described as a blend of power-pop and “fuzzy, artisanal grunge,” the Courtneys demonstrate a reverent awareness of their musical predecessors. Their guitarist goes by Courtney Loove, and the band frequently draws comparisons to 90s artists like Pavement and Teenage Fanclub. The Courtneys have also discussed the variety of bands and genres that directly influence their collaborative songwriting process (as we see on this album with “Country Song,” which lives up to its namesake in sentiment only). This reverence paired with an enthusiasm for all things pop culture gives us an album that’s playful, rich and relatable. Sydney Koke underscores the album with solid, punk-rooted baselines and Loove energizes the band’s pop motifs with powerful guitar riffs. Jen Twynn Payne serves as both drummer and lead vocalist, which is no passive undertaking: Payne steadily but energetically delivers both the nasally, pop-tinged vocals and straightforward drum beats, enticing the listener to get up, dance and sing along.
The name of the band itself inevitably brings to mind those antagonistic, similarly-named girl gangs, (Heathers, the Ashleys from Recess, anyone?) except the Courtneys are the kind of clique who cheer for the underdog and would happily invite you to join them on a road trip, as they essentially do on this album. “Silver Velvet” opens with heavy, hazy feedback and dips into fuzzy guitar riffs to create a warm, shimmering atmosphere that colors the entirety of the album. On “Tour”, an in-your-face drum beat anchored by Koke’s heavy baseline is gradually layered by smooth, spirited vocal harmonies that offer some reassurance: even though “where you are and where you want to be…it takes a long time!,” the answer is “in your heart, you’ll find away.” They then whisk us off: “it’s time for us to let go, slack off into the open road!”
Amidst this sun-drenched escapism are still sprinklings of a quarter-life crisis, with frank confessions of idleness and malaise: “this is not the place I need to be, but for now it’s what I lead,” Payne admits on “Country Song.” While their first album left us with coarser ruminations on heartache, insufficient bank account funds and obnoxious “indie sensations,” the introspection on The Courtneys II is more refined, personal and optimistic. Sonically, the album is more cohesive, with dreamy guitar riffs and walls of feedback that flow from one track to the next. The Courtneys do maintain their delightfully sardonic yet earnest attitude that made me fall in love with them on their first album. On “25”, Payne neutralizes her gut-wrenching self-doubt with jabs at astrological signs (“And when six months past, would I have made it last? I doubt I would have tried, because I’m a Gemini.”) while on “Mars Attacks” she frames ominous explorations of fear and mortality with cheeky visions of Tim Burton’s alien invaders.
For better or worse, crushes and past heartaches permeate this album. The Courtneys are neither melodramatic nor aloof in relaying their heartache, rather they tell it like it is. This ranges from the aching, addicting melody on “Minnesota” to the hat-tipping, bittersweet resignation on “Frankie.” On their first album, the Courtneys gave us a paean to a young Keanu Reeves, and they continued the untrendy crushing with a shout out to The Lost Boys on an eponymous spooky track with a music video to match. With quotidian lyrics ranging from blaming relationship woes on the zodiac to nostalgic cult horror references to dealing with an iron deficiency, these songs should elicit a hearty “same” from similarly disaffected millennial listeners everywhere.
This album is both escapist and resolute, with songs that appropriately alternate between lamentations on lost love and tenacious anthems attesting to personal strength, sometimes within the same track. The Courtneys II, like a good friend, is a consistently strong album that’s right there with the listener, offering both moments of sincerity and irreverence, there to help you stand up straight or slack off on a road trip into the silver velvet horizon.
Written by Bethany Fincher