Harper Lee - All Things Can Be Mended

matcd033  /  August 2004
Harper Lee - All Things Can Be Mended
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Harper Lee - All Things Can Be Mended

matcd033  /  August 2004

Remarkable third album from acclaimed English duo Harper Lee. Named after the famous American author of the classic novel "To Kill A Mockingbird," the band formed in 1999 with a plan to release one brilliant single, take the world by storm, and withdraw from the public eye just as Lee did following the success of her single novel. Luckily, the modest success of its debut did not afford the band an early retirement so they continue creating classic releases to this day. One of Matinée's most popular acts, Harper Lee has earned passionate reviews for its three singles and previous albums "Go Back To Bed" (2001) and "Everything's Going To Be OK" (2002). Band members Keris Howard and Laura Bridge layer guitars, keyboards, percussion and vocals in an intricate yet uncomplicated fashion that is uniquely Harper Lee. The new album builds on the duo's signature sound with the addition of enhanced electronica, trumpets, and backing vocals, plus additional upbeat flourishes that recall the poppier moments from Howard's former bands Brighter and Hal. The most impressive Harper Lee record to date, "All Things Can Be Mended" is a genuine masterpiece in modern melancholy.

  1. Everybody Leaves
  2. Left-handed
  3. I Don't Need To Know About Your Wonderful Life
  4. Let Me Know
  5. Stupid
  6. Autumn
  7. Isn't This Where We Came In?
  8. This Is The Sound That A Heart Makes When It's Breaking
  9. Everything's Going To Be OK
  10. There Is A Light In Me That's Gone


Harper Lee haven't changed a thing since the release of 2002 's Everything's Going to Be OK. On All Things Can Be Mended the duo of ex-Brighter leader Keris Howard (vocals, guitar, and keyboards) and Laura Bridge (guitar, drums, backing vocals and piano) maintain a steady course straight into the heart of Sarah records-style indie pop nostalgia. What this means for the listener is swooning synth washes, gently jangling guitars, melodic bass lines and most of all, heartbroken and tender vocals singing wistful songs of love lost. Just a look at the titles lets you know what you are in for; "Everybody Leaves," "There is a Light in Me That is Gone," "This is the Sound a Heart Makes When It's Breaking". Each more sad and blue than the next. Even the one song that promises a ray of hope, "Everything's Going to Be OK," is pretty darn gloomy. No surprise there. In fact, there are no surprises at all, just solid indie pop craft perfect for wallowing in heartbreak and ennui.   --All Music Guide
Think melancholy and sadness have been captured by too many musicians for anyone else to bother? Think again, or at least listen to Harper Lee's new album All Things Can Be Mended if you need convincing. It's as exquisite as melancholy pop albums can be, from the opener "Everybody Leaves" through to the closer, a fatalistic tune with a title that rewrites the Smiths classic title as "There is a light in me that's gone." Lead singer Keris Howard spends the album longing for connection and hoping life will get beter. "Please stay around" is the punch line to "Everybody leaves" on the opening track, and it's the sentiment running beneath the album as a whole. Song after song crystallizes sadness through perfect melodies and harmonies, beautifully constructed arrangements and textures, and succinct lyrics filled with pain (one of the best examples is the devastating song "This is the sound that a heart makes when it's breaking"). Harper Lee's last album Everything's Going to Be OK captured similar feelings, but All Things Can Be Mended (notice the album titles, hopeful against the odds) does so with even more vitality and grace. It's a truly beautiful album, lovely and sad.   --Erasing Clouds
There was a time when I would write a Harper Lee review and people would read it. Not many, obviously, but hey. It was a wonderful sensation knowing that I could communicate something I cared about and that "the reader" (glib impersonality ahoy!) might even be prompted to investigate the record and fall in love with it - not as completely as me, for sure, but enough to add a new name to their list of favourite bands to trip off the tongue next time they were asked for their flavours of the month. Now, of course, I can be much more selfish when I hear a new Harper Lee record. I can enjoy it, not having to worry about how to describe that just-so guitar sound, or having to bother elucidating on the wispy sprawls of synth which wrap Keris Howard's words in a blanket of minor chords, or worry about whether I should buck the trend of every other review and complete it without mentioning the word "maudlin". Ook, too late. The New Record by Harper Lee starts in delightfully perverse manner with "Everybody leaves", which is definitely one of the highlights, not least with Keris' vocal being a little quicker and higher pitched, recalling the early joys of "Next summer", as guitars nervously clang, the drum machine flitters about in the manner of past top pop hit "So you said" and keyboard strings cascade around it. "Left-handed", on the other hand, swirls in keys and acoustic guitars amongst the tugging likes of "I'm really not sure I've the fight...", percussion intruding where it dares, a little fill-in sucking us into a gorgeous plucked final instrumental, with clashing epic drums at the end. These two stunning openers are then followed by perhaps my favourite song here, "I don't need to know about your wonderful life" - this time, the guitars and drums are tight, picked, clear, like those on every great past tune from "Killjoy" to "This better life". And atop it all, words that will choke you: "I love you... since when has that not been enough ?" "Let me know" is a little more mechanical, though grandly ensconced in more fake strings, but how about this for a classic Harper Lee lyric, so cutely sung - "I won't find anyone else, let's not kid ourselves. Not that anyone cares..." And while I don't want to compare Keris to Eamon, at least any more than necessary, he blatantly then sings "Let me go, ho". Whatever the lyric sheet says. It is some compensation for the lack of the cussing we have otherwise come to expect from Harper Lee records. Incidentally, I still think the lyric sheet is a shame - I don't know why - but as with Trembling Blue Stars' "Alive To Every Smile", it just seems to detract from the beauty and the mystery. As it would had Sarah or Factory records - two of the key components of Harper Lee's sound - wrapped their output in mere words. As if mere words could do justice to music this... just right. Especially the soaring instrumental finish. And we're only four tracks in. "Stupid" has a more Hal-like feel, with the sequencer doing a good impression of extremely fey acid house behind yet another wondrous if desperately sad lyrical construct ("Maybe there's September... maybe there's just aching") and even finishes with some "ba-ba-ba's", of the type we've heard little since Brighter's Sarah debut, "Inside out". The guitar is a bit "Darklands", but there is sequencer and low-in-the-mix jangling as well as a singalong chorus, kind of Harper Lee at their most Richard Marx-ish (don't worry, this is not very, it just reminds me of "Right here waiting", which says a lot more about my need for psychological reappraisal than HL's musical influences). The press release suggested elements of "electronica" in this album, presumably thinking of the serviceable drumbeat that flits in and out of "Stupid", but although Harper Lee can make even barren solitude seditiously danceable, frankly it would have been more accurate to describe Slayer's "Reign in Blood" as containing elements of reggae. The second half kicks off with "Autumn", which originally appeared on a Matinée sampler. Soundwise it seems more akin to the previous album than the rest of this one, which may not be surprising given that its cold, New Order-ish beats and groovalicious bassline motif are suspiciously like those of the mighty "City Station". Which was also, unsurprisingly, ace. Oddly, though, the lyrics betray real hope inamidst the coming cold - "I've dreamt of days as good as these..." - whereas in "City Station", set a little later, in a London December, Keris could only feel "...like my soul is waving goodbye to me". "Autumn" also reminds me of the Windmills' "Summer snow" a little: again, this can be nothing other than good. And nearly two-thirds of it is an extended instrumental passage of no little melodic delight that eventually fades into... "Isn't this where we came in ?" is one of the most lyrically accomplished tracks - again, the vocals are delivered quickly, as if the protagonist thinks he can make his situation sound more upbeat by hitching them to the relative pace of the backing track. Although having dropped an octave during the 1990s, Keris can still sometimes sound oh-so-young, even if the memories remain the currency of the lyrics: "I remember how you had your hair, the clothes you wore, the drink we shared, like it was today..." then "we've wasted time on idle dreams, our half-lived lives, and stupid schemes..." You could cut the atmosphere like a knife. For some reason, after a slightly odd trumpet-sound solo, the closing keyboard really grates on your ears, but until then it is genius."This is the sound which a heart makes when it's breaking", on the other hand, is bleak but sparkling, fragile and beautiful as Dartington crystal, not changing in tempo or feel throughout, but it could not be more aptly named. You can almost imagine that the song was originally an instrumental and a listener observed what it sounded like. It's Brighter's "Frostbite" recalled in the twenty-first century, although like that song it could do with the oomph that would have been engendered in its last third had someone picked up the pace on the percussion. "Everything's going to be OK" provides another twist, the rather-late title track to the previous album, introduced with strange miaowing guitar effects, as whimsical as Harper Lee every get. Again, there is an optimism in the lyrics, although "Think it's going to turn out nice" almost suggests it's all tongue-in-cheek.But the optimism, of course, if it is real, has all been built up in order to be snatched away at the end with the self-explanatory "There is a light in me that's gone". Again, like "This is the sound...", it settles early into a single pace and just keeps going until the tears and the self-doubt have been able to assemble fully. There is even a faintly discernible backing vocal from Laura (I do worry that I go on about Keris Howard too much when praising Harper Lee: after all, it can hardly be coincidence for someone to have been, however fleetingly, in Hood, Boyracer and Harper Lee, three of the greatest bands of the post-c86 era, as well as Kicker, one of the more decent bands of the last few years. I have tried to redress this imbalance by, alongside my "Keris Howard" MD compilation of Hal, Brighter and Harper Lee tunes, putting together a "Laura Bridge" comp. It's got Kicker, Harper Lee, at least one Boyracer early tune off "B-sides and Besides" and a couple of those very early Hood tunes when they had lots of drummers. Hopefully she's on those. She is in my world anyway). The song works best when, late on (this time we're recollecting yet another Brighter tune, "Maybe") the drum machine does what it should have done two tracks earlier, kicking in harder and dragging the album off into a slow, aching fade. And the rumours, then. Is this Harper Lee's last ever album ? True, it has that "epitaph" feel, although so many of Keris' records have had. And if their light really has gone out, it is hard to begrudge them after three albums of preaching mainly to the converted and failing to turn the heads of the unititiated. If perhaps their fight has just gone, there is something inherently romantic about providing such pleasure to comparatively few people and then stopping before hope turns properly to despair. And this New Record by Harper Lee (remember, such a thing is an Event in my life) seems to be getting better even on repeated repeated repeated listens. Rather like Wiley's "Treddin On Thin Ice", which also frames avenues of snowy introspection. On the other hand, this is still not a perfect album. It is yet another great piece of work, at least as solid as its predecessor (both of which in retrospect tower a little over their patchier first record). Harper Lee do, however, definitely have a perfect album in them. If they were to make another record, perhaps that would be it. Or perhaps they will leave things as they are, and in 30 years time someone will rediscover this great underrated band and put together a little compilation of treasures like "Train not stopping", "Dry land" and "I don't want to know about your wonderful life", not to mention Keris' previous triumphs like "Killjoy", "Hope springs eternal" and "Election day", and only then will it dawn on civilisation exactly what they were missing now. And I would still fight - to the death - anyone who claimed to be a bigger Harper Lee fan than me. Because they would be lying and threatening my integrity and my fantasy and my self-image and there would be blood on the car park before long. Harper Lee are all about that certain sadness, that uncertain smile, that other bands just can't communicate. I earnestly implore you to buy all their records.   --Kisschase
Harper Lee was a novelist who wrote the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee is also a band that toes the line between being depressingly somber to seeing that slight glimmer of hope or light at the end of it all. For now we'll concentrate on the latter Harper Lee. The group, which is the tandem of Keris Howard on lead vocals and Laura Bridge on backing vocals, has that airy, dreamy, lush Brit-style pop trait surrounding them. And unlike some other groups who attempt to be something that they're not, Harper Lee relish and bask in each song as if they are trying to tweak perfection. It's a noble gesture on each of these 10 tracks, some of which are worded rather lengthily, giving the impression that Morrissey and the Smiths might have been a few of their influences or posters on their bedroom walls. The group's first album since 2002's Everything's Going to Be OK starts off with "Everybody Leaves". Textured without overdoing it and lush without being syrupy, the song's opening notes have you looking at the album sleeve to see if it's not in fact the Cure's Bloodflowers album, especially "Out Of the World" or "The Loudest Sound". There's a joyful yet solemn quality to it as Howard's fragile British lilt makes its way into your bloodstream. The keyboards are very important to Harper Lee, but the percussion cannot be ignored either. "I'm sorry if I scared you off / If my honesty let me down", he sings as the tune winds around a thoughtful, reflective, and melancholic melody. It's perfect for walking in an early November snowstorm or on a crisp windy autumnal Sunday. Harper Lee set the bar very high on this starter but thankfully they never fail for the remaining nine songs. "Left-handed" features an acoustic guitar complementing the synth or keyboard-oriented blueprint. Some people might be turned off by going down the same road each time, but Harper Lee can't be faulted for finding one great tune after another. One gets the impression that the listeners best suited for these songs are those who've just had their hearts broken or, to a lesser extant, still yearn for the opportunity to have a broken heart. "I Don't Need to Know About Your Wonderful Life" is an up-tempo, atmospheric tune that brings to mind early New Wave groups like O.M.D. Here Howard tends to open or loosen up vocally as the guitars beef up the ethereal, Vangelis-like quality in which the song is wrapped. Another asset is how well it holds up after nearly five minutes with little variation in terms of tone or melody. Harper Lee move into an almost happy state of mind on the gorgeous New Order-ish "Stupid", which glides above the listener in a sullen but dreamy manner. Here the drums also kick in to create a rockier arrangement. The Cure's "Plainsong" comes to mind during the aptly titled "Autumn". Rarely has a title described the tone, theme, and effect of a song. The only downside might be that it seems unfinished at less than three minutes. The last few songs might not have the same oomph after listening to such well-crafted music, but "This Is the Sound That a Heart Makes When It's Breaking" should never be ignored or skipped over. If you do, you are a fool! Although most of these songs are dreary and maudlin, this one seems to hit closer to the bone for some reason. The record concludes with "There Is a Light in Me That's Gone", which instantly brings to mind the Smiths' "There is a Light that Never Goes Out". Harper Lee has made a timeless album that looks at the world as a bit more than half empty. But it's done in the prettiest way possible.   --Pop Matters
Every June, critics go out of their way to seek out and announce the perfect soundtracks for summer: those albums full of fun, fun, fun that are a perfect musical backdrop for barbecues, badminton and beach-blanket bingo. Now, however, it’s the end of October and the days are getting shorter. The leaves are falling from the trees and taking with them our need for frivolous good times and the sugar-buzz soundtracks for T-shirts and cutoffs. Autumn is here along with a somber, introverted speculation. Stow your guilty-pleasure power-pop records next to your beach towels, as Harper Lee’s All Things Can Be Mended might be the perfect soundtrack for autumn. Sitting self-consciously and a little awkwardly between being contemplative or melancholy, Lee’s minimalist pop provides a perfectly somber background to our annual descent into winter. Well-schooled in the Bob Wratten Field Mice/Trembling Blue Stars school of heartbroken and delicate pop, Lee delivers 10 tracks of despondent, yet not desolate, pop. He’ll break your heart, but in a loving, yearning way that dispenses with the melodrama that usually piggybacks on sad songs. “Everybody Leaves” opens the album with winsome acoustic guitars backed by cello and keyboards to make a relatively minimal arrangement strangely compelling. “Isn’t This Where We Came In?,” the album’s most upbeat number, gets its pep from a driving drum program while Lee strums and sings with melancholic detachment. Lee’s plaintive vocals, however, are All Things Can Be Mended’s secret weapon. With a trembling, though controlled, delivery that could put him at the front of a Field Mice cover band, his soft-focus tales of woe put the final touches on this record. Whether he sings about loneliness and suicide with an almost clinical detachment (“Let Me Know”), catalogs loneliness without resorting to hysterics (“This is the Sound That a Heart Makes When It’s Breaking”) or pledges his unending, if fragile, devotion (“I Don’t Need To Know About Your Wonderful Life”), he’s full of the crushed velvet of college-pop loneliness. Putting melancholy before melodrama, Lee makes the sort of record that’ll make lonely record geeks, awkward outcasts and even with-it hipsters stop and take a tender moment of reflection. Although he doesn’t cover any ground that hasn’t already been broken by Bob Wratten’s acts, at least Lee has the foresight to do it with grace enough to make it his own.   --Aversion.com
Never matter how much things are going your way, or whether you’re enjoying life to the full, there’s always Harper Lee to bring you down. But you know, I don’t think I’d have it any other way, and, what’s more. I like being miserable. My record collection is full of so-called ‘miserablists’. Wallowing can be a good thing now and again, and Harper Lee are the perfect soundtrack to a night in with a solitary candle for comfort. ‘All Things Can Be Mended’ is such an album. Sad is too soft a word to use. From the bleak bedsit on the front cover, to the pastoral delights of the sparkling, yet somehow maudlin, indie pop inside, this is an album for the broken hearted amongst you. Just look at the titles of the songs: ‘I Don’t Need to Know About Your Wonderful Life’, ‘This is the Sound That a Heart Makes When It’s Breaking’. This is proper, grown-up angst, not some pretend-gothic nonsense that hangs around city centres trying to skateboard. Favourites include the aforementioned and somewhat glacial, ‘This is What it Sounds Like…’, and the fantastic ‘Autumn’, which featured on a recent Matinee sampler. Heck, Keris and Laura even get a bit upbeat near the end, with the sprightly, ‘Everything’s Going to Be Okay’. But it doesn’t last long, with the closing track ‘There Is a Light in Me That’s Gone’, where Keris laments the fact that his indecisiveness has cost him dear. In short, this album gives me goosebumps, and, along with the recent Pinkie and new Tears in X-Ray Eyes album, serves as one part of a supreme triumvirate of pop music for the autumn and beyond.   --Tasty