Double Life is the latest LP from the Portland, Oregon quartet Neilson Family. The band has a cool mix of jangly indie pop with bright vocal melodies and entrancing guitar rhythms. These songs are by all definitions fun guitar music, and the kind of feel-good fare that you wouldn’t mind playing on a relaxing evening or a long road trip. The kind of contemporary pop that one would find accompanying 90’s sitcoms and candy mint commercials. But make no mistake, as there’s a lot of depth and sincerity in these songs. Themes and memories of people, places and the changing eras of time are explored in this lyrically dense record. The kind of thought-provoking introspection that is usually found in country and folk, provided through the lens of indie pop.
The jaunty “Civil Service Anthem” is filled with candied melodies and bouncy guitar solos, like a cool wind that breezes through the city. This song pays homage to our unsung essential workers whose jobs are even more crucial these days. “TV” is a rousing pop-rock song that tells a story of the narrator having a crush on someone, only to realize they’ve seen them on a TV show somewhere. It evokes head-over-heels feeling akin to classics like Tommy Tutone’s Jenny and Fountain of Wayne’s Stacy’s Mom.
Although most of these songs are filled with colorful jangle, it doesn’t stop the band from delving into darker themes and subjects. “Low Life” explores the feeling of “living close so to the ground”. The song is stripped down to basics with droning guitars and some stellar vocal harmonies from Jamie Neilson and Annie Fifer, whose combination feels nothing less than a spiritual experience. Another somber cut is “Water Ave” which is an ode to a hometown street where : “they used to make things here / now it’s just where we have fun”. The song reflects on the heyday of their favorite childhood spot while musing on how it has dramatically changed over the years.
My pick for the highlight of the album combines both the lively and somber aspects of the band. “My Apartment” has a lightness and cheekiness to it, where the narrator would rather give up everything they own rather than get separated from their beloved apartment. Neilson Family’s two-punch combination of catchy hooks and rhythms combined with sentimentality for precious memories. Double Life is a record that invites you to have fun while it grips you into a nostalgic journey. A journey that you wouldn’t mind repeating.