"Long distance" doesn't only mean annoying calls from MCI, Sprint, and AT&T marketers mangling your name. In the case of this sinewy New York trio, it's a tribute to perseverance. Riding high in 1998 with a wonderful sophomore LP, Apartment Life, and two fine songs in the hit film There's Something About Mary, the group suddenly found its momentum dashed. Dropped by not one, but two major labels, Ivy further suffered the near-crippling loss of its recording studio, as fireman hacked it to pieces fighting a bagel-shop blaze. Then two of its members became parents together, while the other found himself a critical smash with his other band, Fountains of Wayne. Had they a permanent drummer, doubtless he would have spontaneously combusted. And had Ivy surrendered, well, in words their Paris-born singer would understand, se la guerre.
But Ivy refused to go "down in flames," and Long Distance is a charming product of belief that wouldn't be deterred (hell, even when we first heard this LP last fall, it was only a Japanese import!). While retaining their streamlined, catchy pop and Dominique Durand's gorgeous cooing, they've doubled the textural foundation while also amping up the groove and swing. Not really a dance-music band, there's still an undeniable foot-shaking root to Ivy's smooth, limber rhythms, while the guitars shimmer and the bass undulates with deep bottom low end. These are the perfect beds for Durand's French-accented vocals to lie in, as she alternates from dry and wet vocals that accentuate her blithe sensuality. Her performance needs to be this sweet, as the lyrics are unremarkable, encroaching on cliché; as we've seen so often, great singing transforms nothing-special lines such as "And for a moment I'm back again/Remembering what you once meant" (the standout "Blame it on Yourself") into tiny daggers of honest emotion.
But aside from Durand's star qualities, it's her hubby Andy Chase and Fountains pal Adam Schlesinger's writing and production that are the keys. Whether the wonderful neo-deampop gauze of the opening gem, "Undertow," the lax trip-hop of "I Think of You," or the acoustic-amiable "Let's Stay Inside" (with Herb Albert-like trumpet from the great Eric Matthews, who really needs to make another LP!!!), or the bossa nova-breezy flavors elsewhere, these folks understand lithe and pleasant, smile-producing pop. Perhaps the group could come out of their sugar-rush friendliness on occasion, as Apartment Life's more powerful, denser "You Don't Know Anything" did so well. But the absorbing production and inventive instrumentation/arrangements enliven.
No, in fact, Long Distance is often subtly honeyed and luscious, leading you into its graceful moodiness like a nice day beckons you outdoors. May their next trip be less taxing.