Album Review: Ivan & Alyosha, ‘It’s All Just Pretend’
About two thirds of the way through It's All Just Pretend, Seattle quintet Ivan & Alyosha bust into "Modern Man," a striding, seamless fusion of '60s psychedelia and dignified '80s pop that would have made Simple Minds proud. It's enough of a shift in tone from the rest of the album to make you do a double take: "Wait a minute, wasn't I just listening to acoustic guitar-driven indie-pop??" Likewise, toward the end of the song sequence, I & A deftly channel Traveling Wilburys-era Roy Orbison -- as if he were in turn channeling classic Roy Orbison -- with nods to the innocent glow of '60s pop.
The rest of the time, I & A dwell mainly within a vaguely post-emo sensibility: ornate arrangements, earnest expressionism and tempered melancholy tucked into pop hooks and economical song structures. The aforementioned detours, however, indicate what the band is capable of when it stretches its wings. The album has plenty of variety, mind you -- I & A prove themselves to be perfectly capable of changing-up their formula enough to hold your interest from track to track -- but the band hints at especially intriguing questions when it ditches consistency altogether.
As frontman and co-founder Tim Wilson explained to us recently, he -- initially the band's principal songwriter -- ended up sharing the writing duties with two of his bandmates this time around. Considering that Ivan & Alyosha started out as a duo, It's All Just Pretend captures their blossoming into a full band. On the plaintive "Come Rain, Come Shine," for example, piano and ghostly lead guitar trails flesh-out what could've otherwise ended up as a folk ballad.
At the same time, I & A's grip on pop songcraft is strong enough to evoke Cheap Trick's late-'80s hit, "The Flame," on the same tune. Likewise, "Drifting Away" ever-so-subtly blends Americana, honky tonk, surf and 1970s California pop. This ability to balance multiple influences reveals itself on every song, and it's already quite clear that this band has several directions it can pursue if it chooses.
For the band to assertively define its sound while also suggesting new possibilities at the same time marks this album as a coming-out party for Ivan & Alyosha as a bona fide group effort.