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1. Allo Darlin - Europe
In June of 2010, Allo Darlin released their self-titled debut full-length, a collection of relentlessly catchy indie-pop songs that were packed full of allusions to a very particular set of cultural signifiers: Polaroid cameras, Weezer, Woody Allen, Paul Simon and so on. It was all inarguably twee, and in the hands of a songwriter any less gifted than the uke-toting Elizabeth Morris, it would have sunk under the weight of its own cleverness. But between all those references were glimpses of Morris as a keen observer and, more interestingly, as something of a level-headed romantic, someone who loves all the right records and movies but also knows that real life is rarely as simple or as sloppy as what happens on the screen or between the grooves.
On Europe, we see the continuing refinement of Morris's songwriting. The pop culture references are still there (The Go-Betweens, Toots and the Maytals, the Silver Jews and Riot Grrl, for those keeping score at home), but they're implemented in a way that feels less like a gimmick or a crutch and more like an actual, viable way one might interact with the world. It's a more subdued record than their debut, but it's no less memorable for it; in fact, it's the album's slowest and most stripped-down song that stands out the most. "Tallulah" (named after the Go-Betweens album) is in some ways the quintessential Allo Darlin song, about missed opportunities and the hope one feels that it will still work out when life lets up enough to let it. It also bravely expresses concern about some of the more troubling aspects of getting older, as Morris sings, "I'm wondering if I've already met all the people that'll mean something/And I'm wondering if I've already heard all the songs that'll mean something." For those of us who find the second prospect even more upsetting than the first, well, Allo Darlin bought us another year, and we couldn't be more grateful.