With songs that rip into themes of loss, desolation and piteous loneliness, it would be easy for this British quintet to spin off into the excesses of theatric emotional displays that are all the rage in indie rock these days. Boxing Hefner, a collection of unreleased tracks, B-sides and oddities, finds the act keeping a tight rein on its work, giving the album a cool and collected demeanor despite the currents of pain and anguish that stir beneath its surface. Singer-songwriter Darron Haymon juggles both the revealing honesty of artists like Jonathan Richman and the reluctant pop sensibility lurking in the depths of the Smiths' best work. "Christian Girls" features jangly, caffeine-rattled guitars and a playful bass line, and with its insistent instrumentation, "Pull Yourself Together" follows a certain pop logic, despite its off-balance composition.
Yet more striking than the band's stealthy pop tendencies is Haymon himself. Whether he's struggling against the thoughts of betrayal that a passing infatuation can bring ("The Hymn for the Coffee") or recanting an aborted romance ("Blind Girl With Halo"), his deadpan delivery cloaks the intimacy of his lyrics. On "Destroyed Cowboy," for example, he muses, "If her hand touched my face tonight, then I'm blessed/And if I had to decide between life without her and death, no contest," as if he were tiredly retelling an old story rather than contemplating suicide.
In a time when tunes like "The Thong Song" push pop to shallow new levels of novelty and emotive songwriting frequently means no-holds-barred self-pity festivals, Hefner combines the best elements of the two.