ALBUM REVIEW: Dear Reader – Idealistic Animals

Believe it or not, it’s rare that I’m asked to review an album quite as complex as Idealistic Animals. For starters, the central theme of this sophomore effort from South African three-piece Dear Reader concerns singer/songwriter/pianist Cheri Macneil’s disillusionment and eventual abandonment of her religious faith. Uh, heavy, man.

And you thought albums about break-ups between earthly bodies made for tough listening. Idealistic Animals could, in fact, be easily read as such, with lines like “At night my body aches / For your warmth under the shees” and “You must live somewhere else now / I do not want to know / You must love someone else now”. Anyway, this isn’t the place for existential theological discussions. We want to talk about pop music, don’t we?

Well, good, because beneath that high concept, there’s some bloody good pop music. The arrangements and folky array of styles call to mind the likes of eccentric popster from the other side of the word, Lykkie Li, whilst Macneil’s subtle but soulful timbre shares the same genus as Emmy the Great’s. Instrumentation ranges from synths to strings to horns to theremins to vibraphones to, on “WHALE (Boohoo)” Jazzy sax and brushed drums, creating an enjoyabley diverse musical palette without seeming disjointed.

The overarching message of the album is that of taking chances, being impulsive, and not being dragged down by societal or religious dogma: “Life is dull as sin, most of the time / So take your chances” is the mantra of “FOX (Take Your Chances)”, but could easily be that of the whole album.

“MAN (Idealistic Animals)” tackles head-on Macneil’s struggle dealing with our chaotic, absurdist existence without her faith as a security net: “We need something to believe, not that it needs to be the truth…There’s no such thing as paradise”, she cries, before conceding that we do manage to find it “Maybe now and then”. Like when listening to a fantastic, Florence-beating eccentric baroque pop album, perhaps?

8/10

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