Beulah: When Your Heartstrings Break (1999)
The San Francisco band were part of the 90s Elephant 6 collective, like-minded indie pop bands with a similar penchant for reinterpreting 60s pop and psychedelia (Apples in Stereo frontman Robert Schneider produced some of their earlier work). This, their second LP, moves beyond the lo-fi, crunchy noise-pop of their debut and takes on a much more baroque, orchestrated sound, incorporating keyboards and horns but retaining the creative, infectious pop sound. Shades of latter-day XTC, New Pornographers, and Brian Wilson's sun-tinged lushness (and of course fellow travelers the Apples in Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control).
A few songs here stand as among my favorites of the era. "Emma Blowgun's Last Stand" has a drawn-out, slow-building instrumental opening, warmly charming, before exploding into a burst of horn-driven sunshine pop that is guaranteed to help you break out a massive smile. Equally winning is the closing "If We Can Land A Man On The Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart," every bit as hopelessly disarming as the title suggests. A little more direct are openers "Score From Augusta" and "Sunday Under Glass," splitting the difference between the fizzy, energized post-punk pop of the debut and the more intricate, studio-tweaked complexities of later work.
There are a few throwbacks to the more hard-driving debut (like "Ballad of the Lonely Argonaut"), and some gently effervescent ballads like "Warmer," but most tunes take some time to untangle their sophisticated charms, complex arrangements keeping this from slipping into more predictable power pop.
The follow-up, 2001's The Coast Is Never Clear, is arguably even stronger, fleshing out the sounds of Heartstrings in new directions; but this one's always had a special place in my heart.
Here's the video for "Emma Blowgun":