Somehow “twee” has become a musical epithet, sort of like telling hipsters they’re hipsters and watching them storm off in disgust at your philistinism. Even though it’s true that purveyors of twee often come with certain grating affectations—you could just look out the damn window to see if it’s raining, Zooey—the term need not automatically be a pejorative. In fact, it shouldn’t be: in a culture saturated with irony, there’s something to be said for bands like the Icypoles, who make music that’s gentle, earnest and a little dreamy.
The foursome from Melbourne, Australia, embodies all of those qualities on their debut, a collection of 13 warm pop songs with an air of understated intimacy. The group favors a minimalist approach, relying on barebones arrangements that sometimes consist of just vocals and guitar, with touches here and there of keyboards, bass and tip-tap drums. The songs have a hushed quality, as if the band is playing them in someone’s bedroom late at night and making an effort not to wake up the people sleeping down the hall.
Opener “You Make Me” is a shy ode to infatuation that consists mostly of murmuring voices and the slight tug of a bass, while “Just You” sways subtly, evoking vintage girl groups with a faint, circular keyboard vamp and whispery call-and-response vocals. Things get a bit brighter on “Gotta Stop It” as guitar and bass wind around each other, and on the coy “Happy Birthday,” which pairs four-part harmonies with trebly reverb guitar. The harmonies, here and elsewhere, are at times charmingly inexact, lending a handmade feel to the songs that’s belied by how carefully constructed they are.
Things get a tad cloying on “Babies” as singer Isobel Knowles traces life from being a baby in search of her mother to telling a lover, “I want to have your baby.” The band is better on songs that are cute, not cutesy, like the bouncy “Tararara,” or the wistful “Stayin’ Home,” a moony tune that pines for an absent crush. It’s twee for sure, and in this case, that’s very much a compliment.