Sunday, July 22, 2007

Music Stands and Cardigans

The last CD I bought in Fopp before it closed was Taken By Trees’ Open Field, on the strength of a Plan B piece and the lovely sounds on her / their website. I’ve never heard The Concretes. It’s nice, it’s drawing me in gradually. The same tune gets used quite a lot, but I’m not holding that against it for the moment. Certain voices fit certain tunes, after all. The whole of the blues has only one. Smack in the middle of the record is a song that hardly belongs there at all, with a different tune: ‘Lost and Found’, by Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell. It’s so catchy it overshadows the surrounding delicate mood pieces. It’s muted, too, in its own way, but lighter on its feet, regretful without forgetting to check what impression the regret is making. Then just past the chorus it does what pop does best, slipping from arch to abandon as Victoria sings, ‘Am I wild wild wild wild wild?’, and by that stage you’ve really no choice but to admit that you’re in the presence of something quite special.

‘Damn,’ I thought, faced with this non-choice. Because I’ve avoided Camera Obscura for years, and here they were being brilliant by proxy. How could this be? Weren’t they that band with the music stands and the cardigans who kicked off their set with something so close to ‘Dog on Wheels’ that Chris and I walked out within 20 seconds, narrowly missing our 10 second personal best (inspired by Cosmic Rough Riders around about the same time)? Aren’t they pretenders to Belle and Sebastian’s dippy drippiness, picking up on the unintentional non-style rather than the subversive edge and the joyous anti-blues pop of it all? The Field Mice to Belle and Sebastian’s Heavenly?*

Apparently not. It will have been said all over the place in things I haven’t read, of course (one glimpses lists, thinks smugly, ‘I don’t know about this lot, but that is definitely wrong. Music stands, you know.’), but Let’s Get Out Of This Country is completely brilliant. Tunes fall over themselves, big pop rushes abound at just the right places (the beginning, between the beginning and the middle, the middle, and most raucously between the middle and the end, naturally), scarcely out-doing what would once have been termed the ballads, but these are sweet and introverted rather than plaintive and epic, for all their plastic production. Tracyanne hovers distractedly over her songs just as Stuart Murdoch used to do (he’s more focussed these days, for better or worse), but she’s a far moodier presence, so you get this downward lyrical pull fighting against the efficient momentum of the music (the chirpiest song here is called ‘I Need All The Friends I Can Get’). The effect is almost like fighting back tears. The ‘interesting’ records I’ve been listening to this week (Basil Kirchin’s Quantum, ZNR’s Barricade 3) don’t stand a chance against an onslaught like this. Better leave them to another time.

I should have learned this lesson long ago. Having always preferred Primal Scream’s Sonic Flower Groove to anything The Byrds did and, once I got over my outrage at The Sundays’ Reading, Writing and Artithmetic (which Bobby Gillespie famously hated) being sonically nothing more than ten variations on The Smiths’ ‘Cemetry Gates’, having taken it to my heart like few other records. The weaker argument can always defeat the stronger, when arguing is beside the point, and when it has tunes like these.

*This is unfair, and I know it’s unfair. I just don’t like The Field Mice very much.


Anonymous said...

I agree with so much of this posting ... Cosmic Rough Riders were (are?) knickers ... 'Open Field' is delicately gorgeous ... 'Lost and Found' is a heart sweller ... but how can you not love The Field Mice? Have you heard 'If You Need Someone'? I can't believe that any sane (and you're obviously sane as I've read your Pastels piece on Tangents!) human could hear it and not be moved :) Mind you .. what do I know ... I thought Rose McDowall's set at Indietracks was sublime whereas most folks thought it was bobbins ...

Chris said...

Well, I said it was unfair... Maybe I should listen again, but they seemed so saccharine last time I tried (an age ago, when 'Where D'You Learn To Kiss That Way?' came out).

Thanks for the vote of sanity! There was an ace Pastels-related post on Warped Reality the other day. The internet just isn't as sweet as fanzines, is it?

Anonymous said...

Ooh ... maybe 2 cds was too much at once? Try listening to the songs in the batches as they appeared at the time e.g. all the tracks from 'Snowball' together etc.. Ian Catt's production *is* very bright but I don't think it crosses the line into saccharine as there's plenty of space left for sadness. In my view, the lyrics are tender, sensitive and romantic without being twee or schmaltzy. If you do revisit them ... I hope you find something to love as they've certainly brightened many a dark day for me over the years :)

You're right about fanzines. Do you know of any good ones? I haven't bought one in too long although I did re-read all my Chickfactors recently and was left gasping for more...

cheers, brogues

Andrea said...

I'm so glad people are finding their way to Pamfletti. I'd love to scan more of my 'zine rarities, but it's SO time-consuming. I hope someone's doing it, though, before the paper yellows and flakes away.

I stumbled across a Lush zine the other day. Maybe I'll scan that one next. (Thankfully it's brief.)

Chris said...

Hi Andrea, thanks so much for putting Pamfletti up. There are a few really great Pastels fanzines out there - I used to have one which enthused about Mingus quite a bit, but I think it's disappeared. A friend has a copy of Juniper Beri Beri he might be willing to loan for scanning purposes... I'll ask. You'll have seen this on Tangents, I'm sure.

Warped Reality rocks, by the way.

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