Love, loss, change, death. The ephemera of life itself. Not unambitious subject matter for that difficult second album, then – but given the title of Little Green Cars’ forthcoming release, the Dublin five-piece aren’t afraid of a challenge. Written over the course of two years on the road, and shaped by break-ups and bereavement, ‘Ephemera’ is raw emotion distilled into a catharsis of cascading harmony, bruised vocals, and lyrics which have as many shadows as they do light. This is the sound of Little Green Cars in transition – maturing from the heart-throb heartbreak of their debut, to produce something altogether more grown up.
It’s relatively unusual for a band to feature both male and female lead vocalists – especially with vocal delivery contrasting as strongly as that of Stevie Appleby and Faye O’Rourke – and Little Green Cars use this to their advantage. Appleby’s quivering vocals on opener The Song They Play Every Night and later on The Garden of Death prompt favourable comparison to Calexico or Fleet Foxes, imbuing the tracks with soft submission to “life’s trick, as she takes what she gives”. This acts as a foil to the raw power of O’Rourke’s voice – Easier Day is opened a cappella, before deciding that “I don’t really give a damn today” and firing on into assertive refrain and kicking drums. Throughout ‘Ephemera’, the vocals melt between solo and shimmering polyphony, acceptance and defiance – lending the album great emotional depth.
Further strength lies in the dissonance of beautiful harmony laced with lyrics often dark and brooding – very Leonard Cohen. Brother is a case in point, featuring a minor-seventh, vaguely Scandi-folk melody over which skip the lines “when Daddy died guess that I went crazy” and “Last night I had a dream but it seemed like real life/ I awoke with a scream into lamplight”. Likewise, the staccato vocals of Clair de Lune which create a poetic effect – stanzas cut with thudding instrumentals before sliding into a more upbeat harmony and the realisation that “As unlikely as it seems/ Yeah there’s a place for you and me/ On board a boat inside a dream/ And I know we’ll be happy”.
The optimism continues through the latter half of ‘Ephemera’, with the soothing cello/piano/vocal lines on Ok,Ok,Ok making it a stand-out track. Whilst lyrical over-repetition (a minute plus of “I don’t wanna wreck your party”) mean that The Party is slightly weaker than the rest, lines such as “my whole life’s been one big breath in/ And I feel that I am ready to breathe out” sum up the overall mood of acceptance and release.
Good Women Do gives one last burst of pop-rebellion and is very La Roux in the vocalisations and synth, before ‘Ephemera’ ends with two tracks halfway between lullaby and anthem. Winds of Peace gently washes across with multi-layered ooh-ahh harmony and an exhortation to “ try stay strong” because “one day we’ll set sail” – but it’s The Factory which sparkles. A sparse opening of guitar and vocal builds to a resolute chorale of “Jesus, Mary Mother of God/ I’m alive again, I’m alive again”, closing out with real grandeur. It’s a fitting end to an excellent album – bold in scope, ‘Ephemera’ succeeds in charting the dark and pulling through to the light.