Album Review: Ivan and Alyosha – It’s All Just Pretend

I’ve been following Ivan and Alyosha since their first, beautiful harmony-laden EP. And they’re still at it. The recent It’s All Just Pretend shows a uniquely matured sound for this remarkable Seattle band represent all that is right about the changing shape of the folk rock world. Fans of Ivan and Alyosha’s past work can stop now and just go buy the album. It’s that good. If you don’t know much about them, keep reading. This is a must-own pop folk album. Trust me, it’s infectiously good and just never gets old.

The opener “All This Wandering Around” holds the great promise of an active folk rock album. It has a nice traditional rock feel to it (tambourine, anyone?), and highlights the songwriting and vocal chops that have come to define Ivan and Alyosha. It’s about finding one’s place in the world, a nice gentle nudge in the direction of the existential questions presented throughout the album.

“Bury Me Deep” is a moving rock track full of questions. It’s about reconciliation with a partner, asking if that person would move on after a disagreement. The rhetorical questions remind me of a passive aggressive argument, but it works really well to deliver a point about moving on from the past. The guitars and overall rock sound work really well.

“Come Rain, Come Shine” is a much more typical Ivan and Alyosha sound, with Tim Wilson’s characteristic lead tenor vocals soaking the track. The song’s obvious message is a bit like wedding vows, deciding to stay together no matter the weather. But it doesn’t appear to be only about a romantic relationship. It may even be about the band. The sound is harmonious and really well blended. In some ways, it kind of reminds me of the vintage sound of Fleetwood Mac (with a male lead).

The much more folksy “Don’t Lose Your Love” is really sweet. It’s a stripped down sound with a guitar and understated vocals. The best part, as with most I&A stuff, is the harmonies. It’s really a song of encouragement for a couple to keep their love for one another. It would be a wonderful song to play at a wedding. “Don’t lose your tenderness, but most of all don’t lose your love.” It’s okay to say, “awwww.” (Side note: “Do what you love and the money will come” is literally a line in this song. Perfect.)

“Drifting Away” starts with a strangely out of place electronic drum beat. I have no idea why. But the song is this gorgeous folk rock anthem about perseverance and inspiration. It’s about having someone there to keep you grounded. It has twinges of another famous Wilson, that being Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame. The California-flavored guitar licks and sun-kissed vocals all work to that beautiful end. Heck, it even has a subtle sway in its rhythm, provoking visions of drifting out to sea.

The title track “It’s All Just Pretend” is another “classic” feeling I&A song. Containing one of my favorite lines of the year, “If you lose your mind, make sure your friends can get it back,” it’s an upbeat and joyful song. It’s perfectly ready for your summer mix tape, that’s for sure. It’s about hope and life. It’s also the kind of song that teases out existential questions, without seeming overtly philosophical. That’s a compliment.

“Modern Man” is another clear cut rock track. It’s a hard driving jam about a complication in a relationship. It talks about the confusion about how someone can act like a completely different person. There’s dissonance in the guitars that provides a feeling of conflict and tension. It’s still really listenable and kind of catchy, despite dealing with a tough subject. It also sounds like if it came out in 1987 it would have soared to the top of the charts.

“Oh This Love” highlights the folk side of the band’s sound, with some cleverly and subtly-delivered lines. Oh and there are horns, which I always like. It stays just on the safe side of over production. It ends up being a sweet little anthem about trying to live a life of love and failing, but trying anyways.

I have mixed emotions every time I hear “Tears In Your Eyes.” I am happy because it’s a really wonderfully-crafted, easy to listen to song. I am sad because it’s the last track on a great album and I never want it to end. “I’ve broken your heart now too many times. All I can do now is ask why…” It’s a song with a powerful message about humility in the midst of screwing up. It’s sad, but there’s an authenticity in the line, “I know we’ll both make it through. I know we’ll do what it takes. I know the sun will come up. There’s a break in the clouds. Let’s wash those tears all away.” Great writing, better harmonies… what a way to end a solid album.

This is a must-own album for fans of new folk music, especially folk rock. It’s one of many examples of the peculiar beauty of the music scene in the Pacific Northwest right now. It’s inspiring, powerful, thought provoking, and infectiously good. It’s a beautiful piece of contemporary music composition and performance.

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