There have been a lot of strong husband-and-wife pop acts over the years: Paul and Linda in Wings, Karen and that Carpenter fella in the Carpenters, every configuration of male and female members of ABBA, and so forth. Now Jason and Julie Martin, the happy couple behind Bon Voyage, make a case for some of the spousal pop spotlight with the The Right Amount
You may know Jason Martin better as the songwriting force behind prolific dream-pop act Starflyer 59. Here he has shifted gears somewhat, as he and his wife have crafted ten lush, glittery but significantly less dense pop gems. As with Starflyer 59, Jason handles the lion's share of the instrumental work. But this is not just a husband-and-wife affair -- Jason's brother Ronnie contributes a boatload of synthesizer that is instrumental to the band's overall sound. The only non-family contributor is bassist Travis Zimmerman.
The result is light, hooky pop, somewhere between Slowdive and The Primitives. "Never Coming Back" strolls in with a decidedly swank vibrato guitar lead that suggests The Smiths' Johnny Marr, Haircut 100 or other classic Britpop fare. Julie Martin's coy vocals are breathy and light, and sound particularly fetching clad in a sheen of reverb, as in "The Third Marie". Julie's lyrics may not keep you up at night grappling with their genius, but her earnest delivery on songs like "The Telephone" -- which, incidentally, relies on the same guitar progression as Wilco's "How to Fight Loneliness" -- will keep you from rolling your eyes or simply discounting the group altogether.
Jason Martin's combination of simple electronics and clean guitars, paired with neo-retro synths and plunky bass, tips its hat to '80s pop in a much more convincing way than some of the current spate of acts paying tribute to that decade by embracing electroclash. Martin deftly uses simple programmed percussion to drive his compositions along -- particularly in "Dressed in White", which boasts Depeche Mode-styled beats accented by more Marr-esque guitar. The stuttering beat in "On Your Side" lands on the other end of the spectrum, incorporating a hint of glitch and IDM.
All of the Martins are clearly old enough to remember the genuine musical articles, and intelligent enough to craft a record that suggests vintage pop rather than co-opts it. The Right Amount will not grab you on the first listen, but you'll be surprised at how satisfying you can find a straight-ahead pop record when it's done this well.