The earnest love song, once the bedrock of pop, is hard to come by these days. People tend to beat around the bush or couch their sentiments in devices such as irony or allusion. Not so in New Pope’s aptly titled new album, Love.
The work of Galway, Ireland–based David Boland, the sophomore album lays the heart of its artist bare. Out of the seven songs that range from pure folk to the hazier realm of dream pop, all but two contain the word "love" at least once, and even the others, "In Between" and "The Claddagh," tell stories of love and love lost. All of that sentimentality might get syrupy or heavy-handed if Boland didn’t possess such a strong sense for songwriting.
Though the feelings in Love are grand, the artist communicates them in straightforward lyrics and graceful melodies and phrasings. On "In Between," the densely fuzzy second track, the words, "I got drunk on the fumes off your breath as you slept" begin a track-long metaphor that successfully conveys the madness of the narrator’s love for his subject. On "The Claddagh," "I wrote your number on the back of my hand / But it was raining, I couldn't read it," shows a small but cinematic moment of regret in a song that has a sad, dreamy feel.
In "Boys Can Be So Cruel," Boland tells a clear story through a reveal in the third verse: "But this love right here, this love is pure / And I know this for sure / You're further from a heartbreaker / Than the sun from the shore." Keeping his lyrics grounded concrete narratives and imagery, New Pope writes love songs that are more gritty than saccharine.
The artist emphasizes this raw emotion with smart production choices. Most of Love is lo-fi, but Boland finds a large range within that spectrum. "Love," the most earnest thesis on his subject, is folky and unadorned; "In Between," with its drunk love, overwhelms the vocals with dizzying instrumentals; "Old Love Song," which compares a relationship to the object of its title, mirrors that comparison with a "Crocodile Rock" synth and old-timey bass line; and "Lost Love," warm and murky, marches slowly and dirge-like.
Occasionally, though, the lo-fi production overwhelms an otherwise clear album. The percussion throughout Love is bleary and indistinct, an effect that functions well in most places but sometimes leads the music off track—in "In Between" and "Lost Love," for example. Despite its muddy moments, though, the album gets its point across. Overall, New Pope has created a clean and deliberate collection of love songs that is as striking as it is sincere.