Winking Stars
Itís been a strange summer. A sense of unease has hung over things, impenetrable and implacable like fog over a Victorian London evening. For the first time in a long time the summer has seemed like a burden, a time when things have slipped away from me, trickling out of control through my fingers. Instead of drawing myself back together and putting all things on surer footings ready for the autumn, I feel more fractured and uncertain than ever.

Iíve found myself turning away more and more from the things of my past, unsure of where they have led me; mistrustful of where they might lead me onto in the future. So things that once gave me solace and made the world brighter are neglected and almost forcibly ignored. Iím still not sure is this is a good idea, but suspect the fact that Iím sitting here with a pile of CDs on the coffee table means a significant part of me says itís probably not.

Itís stupid too, because there are many records out there that should lift me out of this fug. The Lucksmithís Warmer Corners album for Fortuna Pop (in the UK at least) is a prime example. Now, I love the Lucksmiths and have done for more years than I care to remember. There is no Lucksmiths record I would not wholeheartedly recommend you buy without a momentís hesitation, so why have I not written at length about this record? Itís been out for months. Itís been out for so long itís probably Old News and sadly thereís nothing so unfashionable in the world of Pop as Old News. This is a shame. Iíve always thought so, regardless of the fact that in the past Iíve been as guilty as anyone of casting disapproving glances at Johnny-come-latelyís as they appropriate what I once treasured so unguardedly closely, turning it into The Next Big Thing, with all the horrors that entails.

But today I donít care in the slightest. Today all I care about is that Iíve neglected this record enormously and that when I should have been singing its praises from the peaks of moorland Tors or crumbling city centre ruins I was instead gazing emptily into the middle distance, asleep in idle thoughts of moments that were never going to happen in a million years. Iíll never wake to that sunrise; never stroll under that rose arbor; never kiss those lips that once woke me startled from an early morning dream. The beauty of it all being that Warmer Corners is the soundtrack to all of those moments and more; is the soundtrack to suburban delrium, to educated weariness and lazy afternoons in front of the telly. The Lucksmiths make me happy like old-time movies; which is to say that they make me forlornly happy-sad and blissfully close to tears.

The Lucksmiths are a perfect antidote to preening Pop, overly intellectualised conceptual folk, the emotionally barren Ďavant-gardeí and self-aggrandising (and self-perpetuating) Rock tedium, which of course is the reason they are not household names, are not all over our TV screens and grinning/gurning from the cover of the NME. I guess that literate melodic Pop is just not the thing for the masses, and as Iíve said in the past, no-one does great literate melodic Pop as effortlessly as The Lucksmiths.
Another fine record thatís been around for a while is the Northern Drive set from The Young Tradition. Now The Young Tradition feature Brent Kenjiís beautiful soft-pop vocals, and wasnít Brent once in San Franciscoís delightful Fairways, whose posthumous This Is Farewell collection Matinee also released? I could be mistaken of course, but thatís fine. Today I can do without knowledge and figures, can do without the need for fact-finding forays into the informational ether. Blame it on a night filled listening to women turn the development of an only mildly prospective relationship into a criminal investigation, but today I yearn only for feeling. I have a need only for instinct and shafts of energy that can pierce the fog. And for sure Northern Drive is bright enough to provide solace; is feather-pillow-soft, a Pop infused with home-made lemonade and fields of yellow zinnias. It harks back to the Left Banke and slinks sideways to Belle And Sebastian and, oddly, occasionally, Stereolab if they were coated in sherbet. And in hindsight, ĎCalifornia Morningí should certainly have been on my Summer Mix.

And speaking of summer themes and Matinee records, hereís a quick shout out to the Pale Sunday album Summertime? Sure, it feels a trifle lightweight and undeveloped, but thatís not necessarily a bad thing. And even if itís not the kind of thing I can listen to all the way through in one sitting, it nevertheless holds enough tiny spangling gems of brittle colour to allow a smile to creep over my chapped lips. Today Iíll opt for the minute and a half fuzzpop of Ďmy punk girlí and watch for the sun glint in the broken glass of the fallen Princesshay.

Then thereís The Charade, whose The Best Is Yet To Come set on Skipping Stones has been many an indiepopperís album of sunbursting choice this summer. Itís easy to see why, because itís filled to the brim with frothing Swedish Pop Fun, and how can you say no to more of that, after all? I know I canít. I canít say no to the Envelopes either, and their Demon album on Brille Music has been confusing, confounding and charming me by equal measure. Spinning on a Swedish/Franco axis, The Envelopes make a clamorous cacophony of ultra-pop noise that sounds like a teenage obsessiveís scrapbook stuffed with clipped snippets of Le Tigre, Go-Team, Belle And Sebastian, Pavement, Action Biker, Lispector (just to mention a few); all blended and bent into strange new angles. Messy magic, no less.
Thereís also a hint of messy magic in Portland based brother and sister act Eux Autresí Hell Is Eux Autres set. Now, Iím a full year behind on this one, but what the hell, itís still been a source of some delight, notably for the way it throws together Beat Happening / Diskettes simplicity, French Pop suave and Garage Mod attack to make a neat Pop record. It sometimes reminds me of the kind of noise The Spinanes used to make, and thatís a fine reference point to be aligned to of course. Terrific fashion sense too, which counts for more than most realise.

And finally, back to the Swedes (who else?) for the fine eponymous album from South Ambulance on the uber-hip Labrador label. Think sunny sundae smiles and snuggling up to the Boo Radleys; think The Legends! and walking home over moonlit golf courses in the dead of night; think slinky hipped lips and eyes cloaked in charity shop sunglasses; think Ride when they did sharks and when the sun was always black. South Ambulance make infectious noisy Pop that bristles like a wink of the eye and winking stars, make a sound that nestles in the heart like that evening star shedding her sparkler dims. And donít you know that God is Pooh Bear? Of course you do.

And ah, the lost obsessions of our youths, those things that seemed so vital, so very central to our very existences; how they worm their way out and blink in the light of our middle age, confused and not a little disappointed. They fumble in the fug. They shrug and move on, leaping to younger souls, infiltrating future generations.

Meanwhile the music keeps coming and the words keep fighting to regain their footing, still clambering up the slope in search of who the hell knows what. We work through it all, and we do it with a song (or twelve) in our hearts. Sometimes itís enough.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett