Archive for the ‘Twee glee’ Category

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We’re ridiculous

September 7, 2008

At first glance, Motor City popsters PAS/CAL are impossibly precious.  The cover art for their long-awaited debut I Was Raised On Matthew, Mark, Luke and Laura has a guy who looks a bit like Jarvis Cocker.  Their song titles are long and MFAish.  They really could be your typical twee pop band, so much so that you might wonder why you’d bother with them when you already own every Belle and Sebastian record.

You’d be missing out if you made that call, though.  They’re very clever and endearing, it’s true, and you’ll get a serious sugar rush if you listen to more than three songs in quick succession (I’ll cut you off with only two to be sure).  But they’re distinctive for their totally ADHD approach to song-writing.

In fact, most of PAS/CAL songs are odd for being completely melodic and yet utterly nonconformist in their structure.  Nothing has a clear chorus and most tracks are bulked up with funky instrumental workouts.  Styles and genres are cannibalised mercilessly.  The only artist who is more eager to ape a million styles in the space of one song is probably Destroyer – and that’s a pretty good touchstone for a lot of PAS/CAL’s music.

You’re really getting about six songs for the price of one with these – and that’s a bargain in anyone’s language.

PAS/CAL – “You Were Too Old For Me”

PAS/CAL – “We Made Our Way, We Amtrakked”

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From Burma to the suburbs

July 17, 2008

I’m always going to cheer on the Aussie indie musician.  If it isn’t hard enough getting a hearing on a small label, it’s only harder when you’re from a small country – and not even a very trendy one at that.  So count me as a champion of the underdog, Tamas Wells being a case in point.

I mean, the guy clearly has no interest in musical fame.  He’s spent most of the last five years in Burma with his aid-worker wife – not a fast track destination for musicians.  He puts out impossibly twee folk music about ordinary people dealing with dilemmas like brown bedspreads and crappy jobs.  He tours major Australian cities every couple of years, playing one gig in each town only.

Fame might find him this time regardless, because his latest album Two Years In April is something to marvel at.  Moving away from the mid-nineties-ish tweeness of A Plea En Vendredi, Tamas has brought his sound up to…2004, I suppose.  He’s gone for the fireside, banjo-led reveries of Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans or Iron & Wine’s Our Endless Numbered Days – and he’s come bloody close to them for quality.

Wells’ voice is less remarkable than Sufjan’s or Sam Beam’s, but it’s idiosyncratic and totally listenable.  His sing-song, repetitive vocal style is pretty compelling and doesn’t get old nearly as fast as it should.  Wells played and sang almost all the parts and the simple interlocking instrumentation sounds complex and wondrous.  In fact, this sounds much more like an album composed in a shack with intermittent electricity
than the last album, which apparently was written that way.

Maybe after this album he won’t be the underdog anymore, but it won’t make me love him any less.

Tamas Wells – “Fine, Don’t Follow A Tiny Boat For A Day”

Tamas Wells – “The Day That She Drowned, Her Body Was Found”

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Statuesque

May 10, 2008

Ah, Seattle indie-pop bands, so quirky and melodic and endearing…and here’s one that’s not even signed to Sub Pop. So you’re less likely to hear them on Gray’s Anatomy, I guess.

Throw Me The Statue started off as a one-man band, featuring Scott Reitherman all by himself, but has since evolved into a bigger line-up. Reitherman’s has been doing his thing for a few years now, but the debut album, Moonbeams, only dropped a few months back.

On the single “Lolita”, it’s easy to make comparisons to The Shins or Bishop Allen. It has the jerky-but-sweet energy of those bands, anyway. But it’s such a sweet, glockenspieled number, you shouldn’t let that stand in the way.

Throw Me The Statue – “Lolita”

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They were never meant to last

October 26, 2007

Live in Melbourne, February 2007

Turning up to see Camera Obscura’s Australian tour early this year, I wasn’t expecting much from the support acts. The first one up was a girl who couldn’t have been more than 20 and was in the middle of a serious Joanna Newsom wannabe-phase. Next was a stage full of young indie-looking types including a trumpeter and a violinist. “Oh shit, it’s Architecture in Melbourne,” I said to my friend.

I spoke too soon – up-and-coming Perth band Institut Polaire are something pretty special. Their seven-piece line-up works brilliantly and their literate and catchy take on jangle-pop is superb – think a less precious version of The Decemberists. Not only do they have the instrumental chops and the live show energy, they also have the songs.

Unfortunately, until a few weeks ago, fans outside of Perth had to content themselves with a smattering of east-coast shows (I’ve been to two), one side of a split-7″ that was only sold at their gigs and a few tracks on Myspace.

Now we’re not actually spoilt for material, but there’s a hell of a lot more to work with. First up, is the music video for the old 7″ side, “City Walls and Empires”, an absolutely amazing track and my vote for best pop single of the year (see the video here). Secondly is the EP “The Fauna and the Flora”, just out on Popfrenzy Records.

A couple of tracks for your listening pleasure:

Institut Polaire – “Kentucky Society Drought”

Institut Polaire – “East, West & I”

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Compare and contrast

October 21, 2007

Band picture

The best thing about Sweden’s The Radio Dept. is that they manage to fuse so many of my favourite styles all in one band. They’re kind of jangly and twee, they can be fuzzy and shoegazer and they can also be bleepy and electronic. It’s a win-win-win situation.

I’ve been working my way backwards through their catalogue and was excited to find a track the seemed to be the exact combination of two of my favourite 90s indie pop songs. “Where Damage Isn’t Already Done” has got the same jangly-but-sad feel as “Wish I Wash Skinny” by the Boo Radleys as well as a very similar guitar lead part. But at the same time, it has the same thrashy, lo-fi amateurism that I love in “Touch the Water”, a little-known track from US shoegazers Lilys.

Maybe you can hear it too.

The Radio Dept. – “Where Damage Isn’t Already Done”

Boo Radleys – “Wish I Was Skinny”

Lilys – “Touch The Water”

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Universal appeal

October 7, 2007

promo shot

An under-rated gem from last year was Sheffield folk-pop group Monkey Swallows the Universe’s first release. It was a bit of a mixed bag, but it had such amazing songs, especially the opening track “Sheffield Shanty”. I suspected that a second album might smooth out some of the kinks and give some more consistency and I am delighted to inform you that it has.

“The Casket Letters” has the same gently-swaying folky feel and Nat Johnson’s voice is as rich as ever (if not even more laconic). Once again, there’s a clear standout – single “Little Polveir” – but there are enough other quality tracks for the album to be worth your consideration.

They’re only a young band and they’re producing some amazing songs. The future looks bright and these guys may turn out to be the more enduring of the Sheffield monkey-themed bands.

Monkey Swallows the Universe – “Sheffield Shanty”

Monkey Swallows the Universe – “Little Polveir”

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Glitch-o-rama

October 2, 2007

 

dumb luck cover

My favourite song of all time – hands down – is Dntel’s “This Is The Dream of Evan and Chan”. It’s so noisy and messy and still relentlessly beautiful. It resulted in the whole Postal Service project, which I like but which is much more straightforward. “Evan and Chan” will never be played on a car ad (it hasn’t, has it?) and I can’t help feeling that it’s my own little piece of musical real-estate.

Five years on, there’s another Dntel album and this time Jimmy Tamborello has a lot more famous friends to play with. Or maybe it’s just that his friends have become more famous in the intevening period. Dumb Luck isn’t an amazing album. In fact, it’s a little bit pedestrian compared to the transcendence that was Life Is Full of Possibilities. But there’s one brief period when it’s almost as good as the last album and that’s the title track.

I think the best thing about the first Dntel album was the Zen-like simplicity of many of the songs – fragments of lyrics, hints of melody, combining to form skeletal songs. “Dumb Luck” is a similar kind of song. And it’s one that I really enjoy. Perhaps you will too.

Dntel – “Dumb Luck”
Dntel – “This Is The Dream of Evan and Chan”