Compact Disc (CD)
In the hands of Tullycraft, a wry lyric like “You always made me feel like dying when you sang along with Goldie and the Gingerbreads” has intriguing duality. Is the narrator horrified by someone else’s singing style, or overwhelmed by how adorable they are? Such weighty (and wordy) enigmas pepper the lovely, emotionally direct indie pop on The Railway Prince Hotel, the Seattle quartet’s seventh studio album and first since 2013’s Lost in Light Rotation.
Formed in 1995 by vocalist/bassist Sean Tollefson and several other since-departed collaborators, Tullycraft were an integral part of the original twee-rock groundswell. Despite outward effervescence in the form of fizzy, noisy guitars and freewheeling vocals, the band favored clever songs that examined the outsider experience—embodied by their Songs for Cassavetes film staple “Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend’s Too Stupid To Know About,” on which the narrator woos a prospective partner by promising superior music taste than that of a new crush.
Over the years, Tullycraft evolved toward more straightforward indie pop sweetness, thanks to higher production values and lineup changes that brought vocalist Jenny Mears and guitarist Corianton Hale into the fold. Musically, The Railway Prince Hotel‘s tempos are less frantic than previous LPs, save for “It’s Not Explained, It’s Delaware,” which unfolds at a brisk gallop thanks to crisp guitars and taut rhythms. Yet the album’s slower-paced songs also allow Tullycraft to explore more luxurious arrangements that tease out unexpected bursts of instrumental color. Upbeat horns and ska-leaning rhythms give “Midi Midinette” a deceptively cheerful vibe; “Lost Our Friends to Heavy Metal” is Magnetic Fields-caliber synth-pop; and the organ-kissed, harmony-heavy “Hearts At The Sound” sounds like a lost new wave pop 45.
Despite these shifts, Tullycraft’s fondness for elliptical sentence structures and high-powered vocabulary is joyfully intact—the first line of the album rhymes “dishabille” with “glockenspiel”—which leads to smart treatises about navigating relationship implosions, embracing second chances and reconciling regrets. Standout “We Couldn’t Dance To Billy Joel” explores how social and physical expectations are both a boon and hindrance, while “Goldie and the Gingerbreads” is a vivid recollection of the ecstasy and pain of a long-ago fizzled partnership. Above all, The Railway Prince Hotel is a reminder that old wounds can always be reopened—and obsessing over details never goes out of style.