Three Smashing New Records from Across the Pond.
Esteemed Ph.D. of Listology Professor Honeydew presents a symposium on…
Three Smashing New Records from Across the Pond.
Rock and roll may have been invented in the United States but it’s hard to argue against the fact that it was perfected in England. From the Beatles, Stones, and Kinks through Joy Division and the Sex Pistols to Blur and, yes dammit, Oasis, the Brits have had a way of always staying ahead of the rock curve. True, they also perfected hyper-hyping and the most fickle critical coterie of bandwagon jumpers and jumpers-off, but that’s always been part of the fun. Here are a few new titles from the land of bad teeth and great tunes, in no particular order:
Although it is difficult to pinpoint, there is something very satisfying about Famous Problems, the Butterflies of Love’s third full-length release in nine years. John Peel once famously applauded the band’s debut single on air, possibly responding to the fact that the band doesn’t “sound like” too many of their contemporaries while still being “reminiscent of” a stable of favorites. Over thirteen tracks, the Butterflies of Love hint at the works of seminal acts such as The Apartments (as on “Smite the White Eagle”) and latter day Pavement (see “Conquer Every Woe”), all the while creating music that is delightfully anachronistic and summons memories of a time before independent music segmented itself into a million pieces.
A favorite here is the fleshy “Ghostride,” a recollection of youthful days spent careering on bikes through neighborhood streets while cavalierly refusing to use the handlebars. In addition to featuring one of the better vocal performances on the disc, this track also spotlights the Butterflies of Love at their best, creating the sort of ungendered rock that used to fill the college radio airwaves during the early 1990s.
If you kept up with any music blogs or magazines last year it was nigh impossible to avoid The Pipettes and their pretty mugs. The crown princesses of the hipster scene made a big splash courtesy of their Memphis Industries debut, We Are the Pipettes, which has just seen an overdue Stateside release with two bonus tracks to compensate for the delay.
As happens every once in a blue moon, The Pipettes actually deserve every bit of the attention so generously lavished upon them over the past year. The music on their debut has the sort of appeal that wallops you over the head; its goal is to make you dance, an objective readily achieved through winning combinations of horn section exclamations and string section surges. Even though the girl-group vocals tend to be the most enthusiastically touted component of The Pipettes charm, the reality is that We Are the Pipettes is so energetic and so deftly produced that most vocalists would fare well in the foreground.
On an album where nearly every track is a single, The Pipettes come across as the ultimate singles band. Picking a favorite song–or even a most radio-ready one–is no small task. “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me” is a surefire winner, pairing hard-charging drumming and stacatto horns and guitar, but so is the more subdued “Judy” and the fierce “Pull Shapes,” which follows in the healthy tradition of songs about how to dance to the song in question. We are the Pipettes is exquisite, resplendent with the beguiling charm of sex dressed up as innocence.
For an act as critically lauded as Athlete is across the Atlantic, it is strange how little play the band has received throughout North America. Perhaps it has something to do with the tightrope of moodiness and mainstream luster the band walked on their first two records, an amalgam that had the net effect of making Athlete too polished for the indie kids and too gloomy for the public at large. Having the awareness to self-medicate, the quartet has offered up Beyond the Neighbourhood, their most upbeat and diverse set of songs to date.
Opening with a laptop-recorded instrumental seems an unambitious way to get things going, but “In Between 2 States” acts as a metaphor for what is to follow, a record that finds Athlete stepping away from the more vanilla moments of earlier outings in favor of more experimentation and attention to details. Deciding to produce this record on their own in a studio they had just finished building in southeast London proved a wise strategy for the band; whereas a producer’s guidance would likely have shepherded many of the songs here in a more linear direction, here the are free to peregrinate as the band members see fit. The results are striking, as with the atmospheric eighty second epilogue to the divinely poppy “Second Hand Stores,” the tip-toeing synth bits lurking beneath the galloping “Tokyo,” and the smoldering electronic backbone that opens both “Airport Disco” and “Best Not To Think About It.”
Collectively, these little diversions go a long way toward combating Athlete’s perception as a band whose songs all sound the same. Beyond the Neighbourhood is their way of turning their most potent source of criticism on its head–it is Athlete sticking out their tongues and saying, “See, we aren’t a one trick pony.” Even if their best material is still comprised of songs where they light it up in a full-tilt fury of guitar-driven pop, Athlete takes a big step toward showing there is more to their identity with this release.