Happiness has not spoiled the Doubleclicks. Singing sisters Angela Webber and Aubrey Turner, who return to Steel City Coffee House in Phoenixville Aug. 26, have both married since their previous appearance there last year. Angela, the nerd-folk duo’s guitar player and principal lyricist, has also moved with her husband from Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles to pursue opportunities in music and comedy.
“Being married is great!” she said recently in an email. “I love being happy.”
And yet, with their personal and professional lives merrily rolling along, the Doubleclicks have just released an album, “Love Problems,” that is emotionally more complex, as well as musically more sophisticated, than anything they’ve ever done.
Most of the songs were written, Angela said, while she was planning her wedding, but there’s no sense of romantic adventure here. The first cut, “Lord of the Rings,” is a defiant march that uses a pop culture reference — a typical Doubleclicks trope — to proclaim the end of an abusive relationship, and it casts a long shadow over everything that follows. Webber and Turner have written angry songs before, but even at their most biting, as in “Internet Troll” or “Sexist Bull**** (The Christmas Song),” they cloaked the anger in satire. In “Lord of the Rings,” they strip it naked.
Heartache and loss turn up again in “Big Bang,” as Angela and guest vocalist Jonathan Coulton, over Aubrey’s mournful cello, compare a couple’s growing apart to nothing less than the expansion of the universe. The a capella “Out of Charge,” whose Appalachian harmonies provide album’s loveliest moments, likens the heart of a woman falling out of love to a run-down cellphone battery.
None of which is to say the album isn’t fun, or funny. Wit and you-go positivity are second nature to the Doubleclicks, and “Love Problems” includes small masterstrokes of each. The doo-wop ballad “Kilogram” might deal with abandonment issues, but in this case the split occurs between the scientific community and a certain metal cylinder locked away in Paris. It’s silly and sad at the same time — a combination Webber and Turner pull off better than anybody on this whole Pale Blue Dot.
There follows a quartet of songs that lay out the sisters’ aesthetic, feminist and humanist stance. “Sensitive Badass” may be heard as the band’s mission statement. “Now Is the Time” celebrates the artist in everyone, and “Woman Know Math” chafes at the bonds that hold back one half of human race. The standout of the group, however, is “Wrong About Gender,” which grafts memories of sexual awakening onto a dance groove Buddy Holly could have bopped along with. It might be autobiography, or it might not, but it feels authentic, and in art, that’s what counts. At moment like this, the Doubleclicks seem to speak directly from the heart.
The laughs are reserved for the end. “Extra Gin” turns the anxieties of the millennial generation into an Irish drinking song, and “Juneau,” the album’s up-tempo earworm, makes self-imposed exile sound like a workable option for the chronically alienated. After Aubrey recites a guidebook entry on the Alaskan capital, Angela sings:
I’m going to Juneau. I’ve run out of bridges here I can burn.
I’m moving to Juneau.I’d rather just leave than grow, change or learn.
Everyone has reached a similar breaking point at one time or another, but few have sung about it with such candor or self-awareness.