English Summer of Rain

I'd been looking forward to hearing The Dears for a month or so before a copy of their No Cities Left (MapleMusic) arrived. Maybe having heard fellow Canadians the Hidden Cameras first lessened the impact, but whatever, I was kind of left expecting and wanting more. More of what is difficult to pin down, because No Cities Left is actually a pretty good record, filled with expansive songs that do all the things you expect songs that swell with guitars and strings to do, and maybe there's the problem right there: it doesn't take enough risks, doesn't edge into peculiar alleyways or explore the shadowy corners of the darkened attic at the top of the rickety stairs. Instead The Dears seem content to mine the vein of Rock previously stripped by Blur circa The Great Escape, or the slower moments on Parklife. Which is nothing to be ashamed of, is indeed something that brings forth some fine moments: ´We Can Have It', ´The Second Part' and ´Never Destroy Us' are all fine and lovely fragments of a Pop that daydreams of English Summertime drenched in rain. But it's not convincing, and if I want to hear that kind of thing I'll listen to the Kinks, thanks very much. And The Dears are nowhere near the Kinks (okay, I know, no-one is). They're only just about as reasonable as the aforementioned Blur, and frankly, that's never going to be enough.

Much better at evoking that particular peculiar sense of the English Summer of Rain are Australia's Lucksmiths. Maybe it's because they don't try too hard, come across less earnest and altogether more supple. Maybe too it's because they short-circuit the whole expected canon of influences and instead chose to sample from the font from which spouts the elemental ingredients of, say, Orange Juice (shorn of the Disco inflections), or more likely those later ´80s groups like Remember Fun who themselves drank deeply from the waters of Postcard before moving onto anonymity and a hundred fond memories taped to demo cassettes stacked in bedroom window-sills. So from the slyly shuffling opener ´Camera-Shy' through ace sparkling-like-an-Exmoor-stream single ´Midweek Midmorning' and the brooding back-to-your-hometown blues of ´The Perfect Crime' to the knowing nod and wink of ´There Is A Boy That Never Goes Out', Lucksmiths' Naturaliste (Fortuna Pop) is a glorious dip in the ocean of archived memories of pasts and futures fermented to one side of a C90.

Stars of Aviation know so much about the English Summer of Rain that they even have a song called ´Stars Of Aviation are singing about the summer, but is it going to be sunny, Carol?' I expect anyone from outside of these blighted isles will fail to catch the reference in the title, but that's half the fun, and almost all of the point. Sonically, Stars of Aviation are a sweeping success, conjuring up notions of Galaxie 500 sucking on The Pastels, or The Clientele riding Telstar Ponies into the sunset. In an ideal world their four track ´Snow On Snow' EP would be blaring loudly from every bedroom window the land over.
Adam Green meanwhile probably knows bugger all about the English Summer of Rain, but that's okay, because Adam Green is a star. He has the hair (unruly, shoulder-length), he has the looks (well, certainly the lips - think Jagger meets Julian Casablanca) and he has the insouciant appeal of the gutter poet. Maybe he's currently best known for being one half of Moldy Peaches, whose seedy faux-naąve Punk of their eponymous record was so refreshingly base in 2001 (I haven't heard the recently released Moldy Peaches 2000), but that's surely all set to change with the release of his second solo effort Friends Of Mine (Rough Trade). I haven't heard his debut solo release (last year's adventurously titled Adam Green - actually recorded before The Moldy Peaches) so I don't have anything to hang this new one against in comparison, which of course is irrelevant, but I just thought you ought to know.

You also ought to know that Friends of Mine is one the best albums I've heard all year, is racing around my head with innumerable memorable melodies and lines of awkward stupid genius. Or at least, if they aren't genius, they're at least just awkward and stupid. Adam Green reminds me of the two Johns of They Might Be Giants. They Might Be Giants once wrote songs of awkward stupidity and soaked them in terrific tunes too (well at least they did on the first three albums - I kind of lost touch after 1990's Flood - and actually for ´kind of' read ´completely') and Green really does sound like Flansburgh and Linnell vocally; kind of like how Chris Thomson of Friends Again and The Bathers once sounded like David Bowie, before he sounded like Tom Waits.

Adam Green also sounds like Glen Campbell. Or at least he would if Glen Campbell wrote songs about girls with no legs, broken joysticks, bungee jumping, rubiks cubes and bunny ranches. Which is maybe to say that on Friends Of Mine Adam Green sounds like a 21st century Glen Campbell looking at the moon in the gutter. See, it's in the way that the strings kind of soar, the way that the songs (and trust me, for the most part these are Songs in the songiest sense - no throwaway jingles about peanuts in a porno theatre) gel and slipslide against each other; orchestrated Country Pop for kids still caught up on bodily fluids.
Fellow New Yorker's Flare don't sound like Glen Campbell. Not unless Glen Campbell played ukuleles at the pace of a funeral march and dribbled the sounds of cellos, castanets, toy xylophones, railroad spikes, squeaky chairs and fishy tambourines over the top. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty fine thing to imagine. On Hung (Le Grand Magistery) the Flare Acoustic Arts League consists of Charles Newman and LD Beghtol, ably supported by various friends, all of whom do their thing with the aforementioned instruments (amongst a multitude of others) and come together to deliver a haunting Rococo Noir masterpiece. Of course some of the more astute amongst you may recognise LD's marvellous facial hair and silken tones from the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs set, and yes, Stephin does indeed crop up on Hung, contributing singing, bells and toy grand piano to the delicately desolate absinthe hangover that is ´Glitter'; a sort of odd cousin to Denim's forgotten classic ´I saw the glitter on your face'. Elsewhere there's an early ´80s electro-pop bass line drawing together a choir of harmoniums, autoharps, sleigh bells and goodness knows what else into the lovely ´School of New York' whilst at the centre of it all lies the anthem for the dispossessed wonderers that is ´(Don't Like) The Way We Live Now'. A glorious reflection on the state of Love and Dating in the 21st century (sample lines: 'we met in line at the movies, not a chat room this time'; ´you picked me up at a laundry down in Chelsea, you said something about my sheets'), ´(Don't Like)' is witty and worldly, and how could anyone resist the temptation to sing along with the Trollope-Sontag Memorial Singers?

© 2003 Alistair Fitchett


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