Douglas Martin would never rock a mink coat in the wintertime like Killa Cam or rock some mink boots in the summertime like will.i.am
One of last year’s biggest surprises was a tiny one-man bedroom dream-pop project from Blacksburg, VA, sounding pretty enough and reminiscent enough of the 80’s to make us all realize that we haven’t quite exhausted the era’s musical resources. That project, Wild Nothing, turned into a runaway hit that made a lot of music fans reevaluate their opinions of music that evokes the image of a weather-beaten Polaroid, or at least made them soften their stance on calculator watches. Courtesy of the same label that brought you Wild Nothing (the painfully-hip-but-progressively-influential indie label Captured Tracks), Brooklyn duo MINKS acts as sort of a spiritual successor, a kissing-cousin of Jack Tatum’s dreamy new-wave soundscapes.
Taking the name of an animal that acts as a luxury symbol, Minks manage to add a textural lushness to all of frontman Sonny Kilfoyle’s songs, in spite of their slender recording budget. This occasionally leads to demonstrating the kind of smeary art damage that suggests their namesake getting splashed with a bucket of paint by an angry PETA representative — exactly what the droning strings in “Boys Run Wild” carry out. Kilfoyle definitely cherry-picks a few times from the same tree as Tatum, but besides referencing New Order (“Funeral Song”) and influential labels like 4AD and Slumberland, sources like Felt are fused into the lovelorn, wistful, faded nostalgia of debut By the Hedge. Meanwhile, blurry centerpiece “Bruises” ostensibly takes cues from the early output of Creation Records.
Another edge MINKS has over Wild Nothing is the gorgeous voice of Amalie Bruun. Her calm alto blends perfectly with Kilfoyle’s sleepy-eyed vocals, and adds to the beauty of both bright and driving opener “Kusmi” and plaintive closer “Arboretum Dogs.” Though Bruun’s presence takes each song to extreme emotional heights, it’s a testament to her chemistry with Kilfoyle that both are clear when her talents are and aren’t needed. On “Ophelia,” Kilfoyle goes on a solo drive, reflecting over the ire of a spurned lover with lyrics such as, “And the pieces I forget are the pieces that you swallow.” In addition, it seems as though Bruun’s elegant modulation would have taken away from the tenseness of songs like “Out of Tune”.
But on “Juniper,” the penultimate track and album climax, the spotlight gets shined on her during the voices, where her ravishing voice calmly floats just above the instruments — before Kilfoyle joins in for the skyward chorus, all glowing synths and goosebumps and neck hairs standing on end. But the fulfilling creative partnership between Kilfoyle and Bruun is only one of the components that makes By the Hedge such a pleasure to listen to, and all of those individual elements are all integrated to create a substantially replayable piece of work, and arguably the first great debut of 2011. Let’s just hope they’ll be able to make another record this good before PETA destroys them.