[record review] Big Deal “June Gloom”

Big Deal June Gloom

Released 06.04.13 via Mute Records

The easy angle on the hit-heavy new full-length from dreamy indie duo BIG DEAL is that the sound is bigger, louder, and more dynamic, thanks to the London act’s incorporation of a rhythm section to anchor its compositions. It’s the angle that’s been served up for the lazy music press since the presentation of June Gloom’s first preview single in November, the spelling-challenged fuzz-storm “Teradactol.” In the context of the new album, Big Deal more artfully reveals their augmented approach with the opener “Golden Light.” The song commences with the familiar coupling of Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood’s gentle guitars and languid voices, then erupts into a huge chorus incited by an urgent, pelting drum fill.

For the uninitiated, Big Deal trade in sentimental and sometimes breezy guitar-pop pressed through the mesh of a grungy ‘90s aesthetic. The addition of bass and drums to Big Deal’s music does no damage to the band’s characteristically delicate, murmured intimacies. Ms. Costelloe and Mr. Underwood’s greatest strength is finding again and again ways to peg evocative narratives to beautiful melodies such that they convey the emotional weight of romance astride the threshold between innocence and lust. It’s that subject matter that fueled the are-they-or-aren’t-they speculation about Costelloe and Underwood since the release of the band’s first single, “Homework,” in 2010.

But the newly added rhythm section or the minor mystery of the band members’ relationship isn’t what is most interesting about June Gloom (especially as the latter is put to rest by a simple Google search). Beyond the ready embrace of brilliant pop hits like the most recent single “In Your Car” are subtle shifts in lyrical and musical themes that show the duo is capable of more than boudoir navel-gazing. Evidencing a thoughtful evolution as songwriters, certain of the songs on June Gloom explore self determination and even spirituality. The aforementioned “Golden Light” pleads for a deeper kind of understanding: “…let me out of this shell, I wanna walk in the golden light and step outside myself…” Big-beat album highlight “Dream Machines” somewhat surprisingly pushes a message of cultural disengagement with the Leary-esque lyric “What you wanted and what you chose, you can’t have both… I’ve been dreaming of dropping out…” Another evolved songwriting choice crops up in the blues influence in the swampy groove of “Pillow.”

June Gloom ends with what can only be described as an absurdly anthemic, ‘80s-style power ballad, “Close Your Eyes.” We chalk that song up to Underwood, as the substantially younger Costelloe wasn’t even alive in that decade. But it is a fittingly triumphant victory lap to round out an extremely well-balanced sophomore collection from Big Deal.

June Gloom will be released in the U.S. by Mute June 4. Big Deal will perform at The Great Escape festival in Brighton, England Saturday, and the band is poised to announce a spring tour. Certain dates in France at the end of May are already confirmed; no U.S. dates have been announced.