Harper Lee - Everything's Going To Be OK

matcd020  /  September 2002
Harper Lee - Everything's Going To Be OK
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Harper Lee - Everything's Going To Be OK

matcd020  /  September 2002

Highly anticipated second album from English duo Harper Lee featuring Keris Howard (ex-Brighter, Hal, Trembling Blue Stars) on vocals, guitar and keyboards and Laura Bridge (also in Kicker) on guitar, drums and piano. In the past year, Harper Lee have earned great respect from the music press with positive reviews of recent single "Train Not Stopping" and debut album "Go Back To Bed" piling up around the globe. This new album includes nine straightforward classics that will surely engender a new set of superlatives, balancing signature tales of longing and regret with subtle signs of hopefulness. The album marvels in its fantastic simplicity with gorgeous choruses, perfectly strummed guitars, and bittersweet lyrics. A masterpiece.

  1. Miserable Town
  2. Unreciprocated
  3. Train Not Stopping
  4. The Thought Of You And Him
  5. The Forest Alone
  6. City Station
  7. Fine Bones
  8. I Can Bear This No Longer
  9. This Better Life


Everything's Going to Be OK is the second record by UK indie pop duo Harper Lee and it is their best yet. Keris Howard (vocals, guitar and keyboards) and Laura Bridge (guitar, drums and piano) sound more assured and their songwriting is very strong. Tracks like "Train Not Stopping" and "City Station" sport melodies that are going to stick. The musical backing to their broken hearted laments is a textbook execution of post-Sarah indie pop, simple chord patterns, gently strummed acoustic guitars, orchestral keyboards and aching choirboy vocals. The mood, as on their other releases, is unrelentingly melancholy. Howard sings of heartbreak, death, sadness and other miserable stuff as the tempo drags along behind him. The last track on the disc is bit of a shocker, as it is an uptempo almost-rocker that features fuzzy guitars and almost hopeful lyrics. Harper Lee are a worthwhile exercise in wistful nostalgia.   --All Music Guide
the only time you ever doubt harper lee, even subconsciously, is when the disc starts to turn for the first time; the musty air heavy with expectation and the sudden panic - what if the drug doesn't work this time ? what if the effects have worn off and you are left clutching at past memories of their melancholy excellence ? "everything's going to be ok" starts with a drum machine-only intro. the suspense therefore lingers for all of... ooh, 20 seconds. "miserable town" then ushers us into an un-named municipality, painting a scene of darkness and precipitation, laced in the cold that edges through a town's streets and glazes the bus shelters, lets lamplight throw shadows over its roads, frames silhouettes in its windows and whispers sweet rainsoaked nothings through the elements. when the first sparkling chorus arrives, its sadness offset by absurdly joyful sounding keyboard layers which really rub the sentiments in, you know everything really is going to be ok. "thought that maybe things will work out fine ... given time" we are not going to lie and say that this album is spectacularly innovative. one of our ilwtt mottos, as we've said before, "is if you can't be good, be different"; but equally dear to us is its corollary, "if you can be good, don't ever change". so much of the record seems familiar - not just gentle reminders of past harper lee or even brighter guitar lines, but melodies lifted wholesale from "power corruption and lies" or unintended echoes of moments of greatness like "darklands" or "disintegration". this record is an organic development in terms of the shape of laura and keris' overall sound: although "go back to bed" shone with some wonderful and deserving, heartrending songs, not least its gorgeous singles, with the sophomore album it's harder to see any breach to the pattern. elsewhere on side one (yeah, we know, but in our world, ok ?) "unreciprocated" skilfully updates brighter's "never ever" into the new century, detailing the sting of indifference through the hypnosis of keris' maudlin vocalising, aided and abetted by a beautiful keyboard trumpet part. hot on its heels, the next song that dutifully arrives (perhaps the early evening special from miserable town central, though that's speculation) is the taster single "train not stopping", one of the three best songs ever released on matinée recordings (that's not to rank it third, it's just that trying to play it off against "walking around the world" and "modern museums" is such a récipe for bloodletting.) and then there's the majestic centrepiece "the thought of you and him", in which all hell breaks loose - not musically, of course, but emotionally. the whole song is built on an undertow that sounds like xmal deutschland trading melodies with long weekend, but keris' "little boy lost" vocal, and the echo on his voice, perfectly frame the longing and uncertainty betrayed by the barbs of lyrics like "the thought of what is best for you / i think i was capable of it / of liking him". But as with so much of the cd, it's really made by those baby guitar lines that run over the top of everything, recalling great bands like ooh... early brighter, and late brighter, and hal, and mid-period brighter... it's like being a chocaholic locked in a cadbury's factory. the fifth of the nine tracks, "a forest alone", with its quiet mood, is almost an interlude between two halves of the album - its title, prominent keyboards and sparse percussion reminding us tentatively, (not least given keris' own recent pronouncements about the greatness of joy division) of jd's "atmosphere" and its bleak, brilliant sleeve. and then, to our delight, it's back to the train references, with "city station"'s trim guitar motifs, which apart from troubling new order's lawyers, will be messing with your head in splendid ways all day, before "fine bones" picks up the theme of "unreciprocated" and "you and him", again hovering thematically around a passion unrequited, unambiguous in its depiction of human jealousy. after "i can bear this no longer" turns the feyness to max - taking off when keris' plaintive "i want things back / to when they weren't so complicated" dovetails into another of those snaking little guitar curves sweeping blissfully skyward, it all ends with "this better life", which effortlessly melds a vortex of keyboard swoons with guitars that sound close to brighter's sublime "disney" ep and as such rounds things off perfectly - ending the album, like trembling blue stars' "little gunshots", with unexpected abruptness, almost in mid-vocal: cut dead. so though the title might suggest the optimism absent from harper lee's past outings, you'll have sussed that this is actually no happyfest. most truly rewarding things aren't, if you think about it. each song is like a slide show of pictures shot from a train window, reproduced in grainy black and white, the passing fields and branches beautifully pixellated. we hate ourselves for even saying that if you like the trembling blue stars and aberdeen albums, you'll love this - "yes it's true", but for us harper lee have something more. we would no more contemplate switching our ultimate allegiance from them to another band than keris would dream of switching his predilection away from brighton & hove albion... we guess harper lee are just our home team.   --In Love With These Times In Spite Of These Times
By all logic, my heartstrings should be sick of being tugged by now. After several winters of listening to little but albums like Elliott Smith's either/or and a brief stint as my high school's resident emo kid (I was to be later supplanted by a sophomore who wore Buddy Holly glasses with no frames, but that's a story for another time), you would think I'd be ready to get over the time my cat died and just move on with life. But that's just the problem; logic doesn't work on my heartstrings, and I know of very few people who can claim differently. That, near as I can tell, is why albums like Everything's Going To Be OK, the second full-length from Brighton duo Harper Lee, still sound good to me. We've all heard this sort of music before. It smacks of dreary afternoons in a town that's beginning to seem too small, romances that just refuse to sort themselves out, loneliness bordering on misery. It smacks of New Order, the Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Cure. Keris Howard (Brighter, Trembling Blue Stars) laments and apologizes in a helplessly detached murmur that would make Morrissey proud, while the lush accompaniment he and Laura Bridge (Hood, Kicker) provide ambles along listlessly. The music itself is pretty, if not innovative; the sort of wistful, brooding pop started by groups like Felt and the Field Mice and kept in practice by Belle and Sebastian and the like. Brushed drums and dark bass pulse underneath layered synth and guitar lines, minor chord upon minor chord in and out of pastoral reverb. Were it not for the soul-crushing gravity of the lyrics, Everything's Going To Be OK might almost sound like it believed its own name. But, in fact, the album's title is its greatest irony, as all emotion contained therein has been abandoned in favor of uncompromising hopelessness. It starts innocuously enough on "Miserable Town"; while Howard considers "sharpen[ing] pencils till the end of time," there seems to be a glimmer of hope that he might snap out of that provincial rut and look on the bright side. But by "Unreciprocated" ("The crushing dawn of realisation"), and from then on, what hope remained gets lost in a mire of regret, claustrophobia, and depressing finality ("This is the last stop / The emptiest platform / The final walk home"). After the penultimate downer "I Can Bear This No Longer," however, comes a surprising upturn in "This Better Life." With a comparatively upbeat jangle and lyrics like "Someday I will find / This better life/ I know I've got to find it," it's easy to be fooled — until the last moment, when Howard sums up his vulnerable feelings with "I'm scared they'll get to you / Get to you," and the song cuts out suddenly. Is all lost again? Probably. Histrionic and heavy-handed? Yes, but the sadness on Everything's Going To Be OK remains vivid and compelling enough to stir my empathies. If nothing else, Harper Lee take a charming melodic approach to a formula that's been all but beaten into the ground, creating a record that can be a soundtrack to days of wallowing just as easily as a nice listen on a blustery afternoon. Whether or not you believe in the title is up to you.   --Dusted Magazine
The oncoming winter has gotten you bummed out. Rainy, dreary days, a chill wind blowing through the dead branches, and to top it off, your lover just moved out and your cat got run over by the mail truck. What you need, my friend, is Harper Lee to tell you how Everything's Going to Be OK. It's all a big lie, of course, but it sounds good on paper. "Settle down in a miserable town, tell myself I'm on the top of the world", warbles singer Keris Howard on the album's opening track, the appropriately titled "Miserable Town". That track serves as a fine setup for the rest of the record -- as if most of the problems and obsessions detailed therein stem from the act of deluding yourself into thinking that, well, everything's going to be okay. We have, of course, heard all this before -- Howard and partner Laura Bridge have a whole generation of mopey sad-sack footprints to follow, but the combination of miserable, downcast lyrics and addictive pop melodies is always a surefire recipe to win the heart of the pop connoisseur. You don't have to have any tremendous regrets to swoon along to the chorus of "Train Not Stopping": "It seems so simple right now, what I could have done is what I should have done". You don't have to be a jilted lover to have sympathy for Howard when he croons "I never thought you'd be this indifferent / The crushing dawn of realization / No tearful goodbyes, no final confessions / Just you, goodbye" in "Reciprocated". You don't have to have experienced existential angst to feel Howard's pain in "City Station": "It feels like my soul is waving goodbye to me...darkness come take me". The thing that makes all of this moping actually tolerable is Howard's plaintive, expressive voice that actually contains a sliver, however slight, of hope amongst all the dejected, bitter words to which it gives service. The gossamer, shimmery soundscapes that the duo concocts to support these ruminations certainly don't hurt either. The music here is simple, direct, to the point -- breezy guitar strumming, keyboard washes, unobtrusive drum machines. All in all, the effect is similar to that achieved by the Trembling Blue Stars, a band that Howard actually once claimed membership in. However, while the Stars' use of synthesizers was never quite convincing (listening to their work, I always find myself wishing that they had a "real" drummer), Harper Lee seem, like the best vintage New Order, to have mastered the art of making synthesized sounds sound warm and inviting. Of course, if you simply can't bear to hear someone drone on and on about his personal miseries, Harper Lee is probably not the band for you. Likewise, if you find this sort of mellow, depressive pop monotonous and uninteresting, Harper Lee is probably not the band that's going to change your mind. However, if you get into the darker side of the singer/songwriter pantheon, from Nick Drake to Joe Pernice, odds are good that you'll find a place in your broken heart for Harper Lee. And if that heart is freshly broken, still convulsing at the thought of the lover who walked out last week, then get thee to the record store. There's no better salve for that sort of injury than hearing someone else wax eloquently on about how much worse they've got it.   --Splendid
The Jasmine Minks had a good song once called ‘Ghost of a Young Man’ and the lyrics went something like: ‘I murdered him not by gun or knife but by the way I run my life.’ Or words to that affect (Creation Records, 1985). Everything’s Going To Be OK lifts the curtains on a ghost of a relationship judging by the lyrics, which were printed and therefore read, voyeuristically, but glad I am that someone sings songs like these. ‘Unreciprocated’, ‘The Thought Of You and Him’, ‘Fine Bones’. That someone picks at scabs, that someone tries to express such love dejection whilst resisting platitudes. And fails sometimes, but failure is good, failure is important. And at the risk of conflating all Harper Lee (and previous) songs into one (but that is every listener’s right) the whole works like a good poetry book. It sits on my shelf at the moment next to Birthday Letters. But anyway, don’t expect surprises, or a Norman Cook remix of ‘Noah’s Ark’, ‘cos such sincerity can only come in a plain dress, and it slots into the oeuvre without let or hindrance. Which isn’t to suggest Everything’s Going To Be OK doesn’t have its moments—but it’s the whole that works so well: a patchwork of wishes and lost possessions beneath a tremulous pool. Slow songs and rainstorms. It asks so little of us—just understanding I guess. But this is the Jackass generation and it’s probably more than we can give. Yet, I admire such focus; all the best artists have such single-mindedness.   --Wide Open Road
The title Everything's Going to Be OK might sound optimistic, but here it's more a disguise tinged with a little bit of hope, like how you tell yourself things will get better when you're pretty sure that they won't. Or as Harper Lee vocalist Keris Howard sings during the album's first track, "Settle down in a miserable town/tell myself I'm on top of the world." The pain of heartache, unrequited love and loneliness lie at the center of Harper Lee's beautifully sad pop songs. Howard sings these songs in a straightforward way, while he and bandmate Laura Bridge build a melodic backdrop of guitar, piano, keyboards and drums. Any album with song titles like "I Can Bear This No Longer" and "Miserable Town" is no doubt going to be drenched in sadness, but something about the candid way in which the songs are presented, mixed with the exquisite mood, makes the album less depressing than melancholy, exuding the placidity that comes with turning inward. In other words, there's a tranquility to it all which is truly alluring. And there's always a note of potential, a fleeting thought that things could get better which helps life seem less bleak.   --Erasing Clouds