Perpetual Twilight

It's been a strange summer for music. I haven't listened to much of anything, new or old, and I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's been because of the sun and the heat keeping me away from the stereo, or my bicycle doing the same thing. Maybe it's been the comics keeping me occupied and my increasing inability to listen to anything whilst reading. Or maybe I've just been a bit bored of it all.

Certainly there have been few records that have made me sit up and really take notice. There have been exceptions of course, and the main one must be the Broadcast album. HaHa Sound (Warp) is an exquisite piece of contemporary confection that appeases and challenges in all the right ways. Trish Kennan's voice of course is heaven sent; truly one of the greatest things imaginable in modern Pop, or indeed from any era and she's up there in the pantheon of all time greats for sure. It's been said before that Kennan and Broadcast can conjure notions of Jacqui McShee and Pentangle, and whilst this is still true, there's also suggestions here of American Spring and of the sublime Wendy and Bonnie. In fact at times I like to think of HaHa Sound as being a lost early ´70s Soft Pop masterpiece which Broadcast have re-recorded, stripping out the baroque instrumentation of guitars, strings etc, and replacing them with a challenging 21st Century electronica that bubbles and scrapes magnificently in counterpoint to the honey vocals that float above the clouds. HaHa Sound is the most refreshingly delicious record I have heard in a long time, and it's certainly going to be hard to beat to album of the year.

Similarly delicious is the Relict album Tomorrow Is Again (Vegas Morn). Some will know already that the Relict is a loose collective assembled to colour in the songs of Innes Phillips, and it's probably true to say that if you knew that then you also know that the collective includes members of The Clientele and Pipas, as well as legendary indie crooner Pam Berry. Knowing that, it's not hard to guess at what The Relict sound like: they sound a lot like The Clientele with the added enchantment of some divine female voices, and of course that's a very fine thing indeed. Especially so on songs like ´I Saw Your Eyes' where Pam and Lupe Nunas weave spirals so seductive you want to pledge undying love for all of time, or on ´Held In Glass' where Abigail Marvel duets with Innes in a song that sounds like the leaves browning on the bracken on Great Haldon. So The Relict fall sweetly into a pattern with the likes of The Clientele, July Skies and Gravenhurst, forming ripples on the canal and throwing ghostly shadows of fumbling lovers on the newly harvested fields; a surreal sweet suburbia where honesty and fragility still count for something, where it's okay to smile at spiders webs in the misted maroon morning light and where you don't get called ´poof' for taking photos of sweet vending machines in the afternoon sun.
Also on that whole downbeat trip are a couple of albums that fell in my lap from Glasgow's lovely Shoeshine Records. First up, Cork based Boa Morte with their year old Soon It Will Come Time To Face The World Outside. Boa Morte inhabit that gorgeous land of perpetual twilight, the kind of place where Yo La Tengo are the coolest gang in town and people like Arco or Australia's divine and cruelly undervalued Deloris are rightly held in the highest esteem. Listening to Soon It Will Come... in fact reminds me an awful lot of that awesome Deloris album The Pointless Gift and that's some mighty recommendation. Boa Morte are the sound of moonlit meanders through crumbling riverbank mills and of dawn raids to the castle on the hill to make paintings of a world stretching its arms and rubbing the sleep from its eyes. The Boa Morte website tells us that studio time has been booked for September 2003, and I for one can hardly wait to hear the results of those sessions.

Also on Shoeshine is the smoothly ragged slow-core country folk of The Beauty Shop's Yr Money Or Yr Life. The sound of switchblade combs snug in worn Levi pockets, empty bourbon bottles in the grate, deep dark coffee pots steaming on the stove and the shabby elegance of the Golden Rule shoe store, The Beauty Shop should be filed next to your Calexico, Giant Sand and Richard Buckner albums posthaste.

A more upbeat country folk sound is made by Ashley Park on their third album The Secretariat Motor Hotel (Darling Music / Happy Birthday To Me / Sidewinder Sounds, depending on where you happen to live). Calgary born Terry Miles writes songs that shimmer with the dust of deserts, and sings with a voice that occasionally shivers like a young Lloyd Cole when he still lived down on Charlotte Street. It's pretty good stuff, but like the work of people like Neko Case and the New Pornographers, The Secretariat Motor Hotel is a record that's somehow lacking in a certain spark, that seems to be strangely soulless. So whilst songs like ´The Lonely Lights of Home' and ´Our Glory Days' are warmly enchanting moments that work beautifully in isolation, in the context of a whole album they are oddly swamped. The Secretariat Motor Hotel is one of those albums it's best to dip into, or to use to pepper mix tapes.
Back on Shoeshine, and there's the sound of New York's fabulous anti-folksters Schwervon! whose Quick frozen small yellow cracker has been one of my favourite blasts of the summer. ´American Girl' is the best opening track since ´You're Pretty Good Looking', and with other cuts like the haunting/hammering six minute epic ´Springtime', the hymn to breakfast love/hate that is ´Twin Donut' and their no-fi theme that is ´Schwervon!', this duo of Nan Turner and Major Matt Mason have been, to paraphrase the wonderful Julie Lispector, this summer's first, last and everything, my lovely Beat Happening. And you can't ask for much more than that.

And what about The Gossip? Their Movement album on Kill Rock Stars is really gloriously self explanatory, being a magnificent Performance Art Blues carouse of mammoth proportions. Enough said, except that if you don't already own a copy I want to know why not.

And finally, with the rain falling outside on what feels like an ending, there's the sound of Club 8 and their rather lovely Spring Came, Rain Fell (Stereo Test Kit). It seems odd for such an album to be coming out when it's soon to be turning to Autumn (sorry to our Southern Hemisphere friends for being so Northern Hemisphere-centric), but regardless, it's a fine sound to accompany any changing of the seasons, drenched as it is in sunlight filtered through branches and mists of morning dew. I've always had a soft spot for Club 8; they've always seemed to me to be the best purveyors of the sound that seems to have resulted from a certain Scandinavian obsession with the sort of fey indiepop proffered in the late ´80s and early ´90s by the likes of the Field Mice, Blueboy, Brighter and others of their ilk. Club 8 more than any others have always seemed to invest that fragile softness with a deliciously natural Pop instinct for wonderful melodies and restrained instrumentation. Opener ´We're Simple Minds' (no, not that Simple Minds) has a lovely echo of Angelo Badalamenti's exquisite Twin Peaks theme, whilst elsewhere there are the drifting spectres of Air, Metric, Stars and of course those arch pioneers of this kind of sweet ´60s inflected Soft Pop, St Etienne. It's to Soft Pop acts like the Free Design and Wendy and Bonnie that Club 8 also nod, and the feeling of timeless innocence that courses from Spring Came... is as surely rooted there as it is in ´80s indie or electropop. Chilled out music for people who hate the idea of chill-out records, I can see Spring Came... becoming one of the records I return to a lot in the coming weeks as the pace quickens and I seek solace in memories of softness and calm.

© 2003Alistair Fitchett