The Charming Pitchfork 500 – The Smiths

Some bands take a few years to really get their sound right. Listen to early Joy Division or The Pixies and you’ll hear hints of what they’d become, but it’s rare for a truly revolutionary band to appear pretty much fully formed.

But The Smiths weren’t like other bands. In Morrissey, they had a stunning lyricist and a frontman who understood exactly what the point of a frontman was. In Marr, they had the best guitar player of his generation, stunningly accomplished, always willing to experiment, with a fantastic ear for a melody. His playing is still unparalleled today. In Rourke and Joyce, these two mercurial talents were backed up with a bassist and drummer able to take Marr’s ideas and put them in practice, be they jangly indie-rock or funked-up post-punk.

And it’s their second single, “This Charming Man”, where they show all this skill, this knowledge, this vitality, and put it into one three-minute pop wonder. From the first jangle 1, which almost crashes into chaos before righting itself and kicking into the lead line, you know there’s something special happening. There’s the interlocking guitar and basslines, there’s the way the lead guitar line skitters and jumps around; there’s the complex yet understated production – just listen to this from Johnny Marr (from Guitar Player magazine via Wikipedia):

“I’ll try any trick. With the Smiths, I’d take this really loud Telecaster of mine, lay it on top of a Fender Twin Reverb with the vibrato on, and tune it to an open chord. Then I’d drop a knife with a metal handle on it, hitting random strings. I used it on “This Charming Man”, buried beneath about 15 tracks of guitar … [it] was the first record where I used those highlife-sounding runs in 3rds. I’m tuned up to F# and I finger it in G, so it comes out in A. There are about 15 tracks of guitar. People thought the main guitar part was a Rickenbacker, but it’s really a ’54 Tele. There are three tracks of acoustic, a backwards guitar with a really long reverb, and the effect of dropping knives on the guitar – that comes in at the end of the chorus.”

No wonder I can’t bloody play it.

Funny thing is, it’s all done so well that you hardly notice, yet Marr’s guitar playing was absolutely revolutionary. Everyone from Blur to Noel Gallagher, from Jeff Buckley to Radiohead, cite Marr as their greatest influence. Marr himself, in the great “Guitar Man” by Will Hodgkinson, says there isn’t much to his playing other than imagination and a quest to make interesting music. Oh, and lots, and lots, and lots of practice. I think he’s being too modest, to be honest.

The structure of the song is fascinating too. There’s not really a chorus to speak of; instead, the song features three main motifs, which each repeat a couple of times. It’s not the only time they’d do this, but it works beautifully here.

And on top of all this jangling, the astonishing musicality of the band, is Morrissey. People almost always focus on him, rather than the music. An obscenely gifted lyricist, hugely well-read, he understood utterly what a frontman was there to do – be watched, be copied, be loved or hated, but never, ever ignored. Most people first saw him on Top Of The Pops, singing this very song, wearing a scruffy shirt open down to here, Elvis-quiffed and waving around a bunch of gladioli:

That performance just shouted “I am different, and if you are like me, follow me”. And many did, in their droves. Even someone usually considered somewhat thuggish by indie music fans, Noel Gallaher, said of this performance that it spoke to him. Jeff Buckley, at a live show, when heckled by a member of the crowd to play “Freebird”2, he retorted “60’s? Bullshit. 70’s? Bullshit. 80’s? Big, big bullshit. Except for The Smiths”.

The lyrics themselves are amazing. It takes many listens to really get the message of the song (man gets picked up by another man and, well, one thing leads to another), but what’s utterly striking is the deliberately archaic language – “gruesome”, “handsome”, “a stich to wear”, “pantry boy”. And then there’s the fantastic rhyming couplets:

“Why pamper life’s complexity\When the leather runs smooth\On the passenger seat?”

“I would go out tonight\But I haven’t got a stitch to wear\This man said “It’s gruesome that someone so handsome should care””

Heady, clever stuff. There’s even a quote from an obscure early ’70’s homoerotic movie featuring Michael Caine and Sir Lawrence “Larry” Olivier, “”A jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place” (the latter talking about the former).

With this song, The Smiths showed that it was possible to be literate and tuneful, intelligent and poppy, and most of all different in a way that the likes of Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, REM, The Go-Betweens and The Associates (and many more) had tried, but not quite got right. The Smiths got it right on their second single, and here I am, 26 years on, writing about a song that sounds like it was recorded yesterday and I’m hearing it for the first time. I can’t say enough just how much I love this song. I’ve known it since the week it was first released (thanks to my brother and John Peel) and I still haven’t got bored of it.

I’ve already written over 1000 words about this song, so I really should stop now. All I have to say is, if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like The Smiths because of Morrissey (and it’s always because of Morrissey), just listen to this one song, with your preconceptions gone and your ears open, and you’ll hear one of the finest records that was ever made.

And what’s more, most of those bands you love know it too.

1 Which I’m still trying to learn to play 26 years after first hearing it. My fingers just won’t do it.

2 Don’t knock it. I once shouted that at a Silver Mt Zion concert to laughs from most of the band. Not sure that Efrim Menuck found it that funny, but you can’t please everyone.

MP3: This Charming Man by The Smiths

Buy “The Smiths”. Buy it, buy it, buy it. (CD)

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New Mew News, and no new Sufjan news

Mew have released another song from their long-awaited CD, “This title goes on and on and doesn’t make much sense/no matter how many times you read it/and you just can’t shorten it/and isn’t the cover horrid?”. And another stormer it is too. “Repeaterbeater” again shows off their prog-rock chops mixed with their ruthless way with a tune. Sure am looking forward to hearing the album in its entirety. “No More Stories” (the album) is out on 26th August. Bit of a wait then.

But, though “Repeaterbeater” is on the new album, it’s also on their new “No More Stories” EP, released on Tuesday 30th June on iTunes, the track list is as follows:

1. Introducing Palace Players
2. Repeaterbeater
3. Owl
4. Start
5. Swimmer’s Chant

I’ve provided the Amazon link below, but frankly I’m not sure it’s going to work.

Thanks to Cause = Time for the tip.

Jonas And Tele

Jonas And Tele

Mew are playing live at London’s ICA on Thursday 16th July but thanks to choosing a far too small venue, it sold out faster than you can say their new album title (about 3 days, as it turns out). Please move to a bigger venue, chaps. I’ve been telling Mrs Loftandlost for years that the show she missed due to being heavily pregnant was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and I think she’s going to take a brick to my head if I say it again.

And as the title says, I don’t have any Sufjan Stevens news. I’m just posting “Come On! Feel The Illinoise!” because it’s such a damned fine song. The second half, with its refrain of “Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level\Are you writing from the heart?\Are you writing from the heart?”, is heartmeltingly fine. At his best, no-one can touch Sufjan for the sheer audacity of the music and the stunning gorgeousness of his lyrics. Let’s hope that when he does finally get round to releasing something that’s not Christmas songs, that it touches the heights of this song. I must say, I listened to this last night and the tears welled up in my eyes. I’m such a softy.

MP3: Repeaterbeater by Mew

MP3: Come On! Feel The Illinoise! by Sufjan Stevens

Buy “No More Stories Ep” (MP3)

Buy Sufjan Stevens “Illinoise” (CD)

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Steven Wells was one of the voices of my teenage years. A frustrating, infuriating, cajoling voice maybe, but also a fiercely intelligent one, never afraid to speak out against anything or anyone. Swells, as everyone called him, was openly gay in a world still not comfortable with homosexuality, and he never failed to let you know about it. In fact he never failed to raise his voice about anything. And whilst that could sometimes make him rather irritating, it also meant he said things that no-one else was saying – and often he was right.

Cheer up mate.

Cheer up mate.

What you got with Swells was honesty and integrity. You didn’t necessarily agree with everything he said – and you knew he was sometimes saying things just to wind people up (usually he’d say so) – but you knew it was coming from a real person, with real thoughts inside his rather mad head. I’ll miss him. I’m posting Husker Du’s “New Day Rising” in his honour, because I think it would annoy and enthral him in equal measure. I can see him up in the clouds, little angel wings on his back, shouting “PROPER ROCK made by A PROPER GAY MAN!”.

(Steven Wells died of pancreatic cancer on Tuesday 23rd June 2009).

Oh aye, and some other fella passed away too.

The world’s awash with tributes right now. All I’ll say is what I said a few months back – he was hugely talented, and hugely wasted. Rest in peace, old chap.

And Farrah Fawcett too? Bloody hell.

MP3: New Day Rising by Husker Du

MP3: Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough by Michael Jackson

Buy “Thriller” (CD)

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It’s All Coming Around Again – Orbital and Saint Etienne

It’s terrible getting old. You go through life, having fun, travelling, working, getting married, having a kid, when suddenly you hear a fact that makes you feel terribly, terribly old. This week, it was the news that Orbital have been around for 20 years. 20 years! Blimey.

20 years since I first heard “Chime” in a Newcastle nightclub called Rockshots (previously discussed here). And slightly less than 20 years since I used to use their “Green” and “Brown” albums to chill out after a long, hard night out. Orbital, along with Detroit Techno pioneers like Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, and those ker-azzee Germans Kraftwerk, made electronic music fantastically human, and danceable to boot. I’ll talk about them at further length when I finally get to them in the Pitchfork 500 list but for now, just one of their finest tunes, “Belfast”, that made the hairs on my arms stick up after hearing just a couple of seconds the other day.

Because just those couple of seconds transport me to a night out at the Brixton Academy in 1991, seeing them live for the first time, and seeing genius in action. Oh, and I got a shoulder massage from a little Scouse lady that my brother swore was Sonia. Ah, what fun times those were. But 20 years? Sheesh.

And then I saw Pitchfork doing a review of the re-release of Foxbase Alpha by Saint Etienne. Saint Etienne are one of those classic London bands, like Ian Dury and Madness, through to Suede and Tindersticks1, that are so representative of London’s ability to nostalgically hark back to the past whilst looking forward. You can’t take the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line without being plummeted straight into the world Saint Etienne inhabit – Kentish Town, Tufnell Park, Archway, all primary locations on the psychogeography of Cracknell, Stanley and Wiggs. Sorry, I came over all Iain Sinclair there.

So, the review got me back to listening to not Foxbase Alpha, but the great early compilation “You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone”. Featuring singles and b-sides not present on either of their first two albums, it was somehow a better listen than either of their early album. So here’s a couple of tracks from there that instantly transport me to a terraced house in Sandyford, Newcastle, via Highgate, East Finchley and High Barnet. Wonderful stuff.

20 years. Sweet Jebus, I’m getting old.

1 Arguably there hasn’t been a decent London band for years. The Libertines? You’re having a laugh. Maybe it’s because everyone’s been too busy buying houses then watching them plummet in value to go and form a band. I suppose now, with everyone unemployed and bankrupt, they’ll have plenty of time to pick up their guitars once more. Anyone fancy forming a 16-piece post-rock/country/free-jazz band in South-West London, let me know.

MP3: Belfast by Orbital

MP3: Who Do You Think You Are by Saint Etienne

MP3: People Get Real by Saint Etienne

Buy Orbital’s “20” (CD/MP3)

Buy “London Conversations: The Best Of Saint Etienne” (CD)

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Saturday Tunes – Vampire Weekend, Bhundu Boys, Waumiss

First off, I found a great band the other day. They’ve got a fantastic sound, a mix of The Smiths and The Bhundu Boys, which kind of makes me think they spent their formative years locked in a cupboard under the stairs with only a tape of mid-80’s John Peel shows for company. And what a name too, Vampire Weekend.


What do you mean they came out last year? And the blogosphere did them to death? And everyone’s bored of the sight of them?


Anyway, I quite like them. Yes, poshos playing African-styled music isn’t a schtick that I would normally buy into, but they seem to be a pretty decent bunch, and the songs are good. And they fall into my “Everything Stems From The Smiths” theory which I’m proposing in my next thesis my next Pitchfork 500 post. Which is about The Smiths, you know.

So, for those of you who’d like an introduction to some great African music, here’s a track by The Bhundu Boys. Make sure you go and buy their “Shed Sessions” album. Some of the finest guitar playing you’ll ever hear.

In other news, Waumiss (side project of the charming Clarque Blomquist of The Kingsbury Manx) have some new videos on YouTube:

As one of the comments says “Thanks Waumiss! Now I never need to drop acid again!”. If this isn’t the strangest thing you have seen all week then you really should lay off the shrooms.

Next week, I’ll tell you all about this fantastic band from Montreal who dress up in old clothes and sing about being children in a U2-gone-indie kind of way. You’ll love ’em.

MP3: Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend

MP3: Kuroja Chete by The Bhundu Boys

Buy “Vampire Weekend” (CD/MP3)

Buy Bhundu Boys “The Shed Sessions: 1982-1986” (CD)

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Sonic Youth Geetars

Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh. If I was Fender’s Head of Marketing, and I wanted to go really out there with my artist endorsements (“New For 2009! G.E. Smith Guitar!”) who would I choose to get that valuable Lawyer-That-Was-A-Huge-Alt-Rock-Fan dollar (I’m looking at you, Searsy)? J Mascis? Nah, already done. Butthole Surfers? Too bizarre. Sonic Youth? But don’t they stick knitting needles into the strings, tune them all to A# and generally abuse the goddamn life out of their poor Jazzmasters and Mustangs?

Well, yeah, but in their dotage they’ve become quite willing to endorse themselves in all sorts of “fun” ways1. And if you’re a lawyer or banker who spent their formative years blasting out “Sister” from their dorm room2, then a funky messed up Jazzmaster might just scratch the itch that a Road-Worn Telecaster 3 or a *gasp* PRS just can’t scratch?

And you know, they are quite nice-looking guitars:

Lee's Guitar

Lee's Guitar

Thurston's Guitar

Thurston's Guitar

Although they look a hell of a lot like the Electrajets (not a bad thing, I’d quite like one of these babies), what with that stripped down Jazzmaster/Jag vibe:

Dan Grosh's Lovely Electrajet

Dan Grosh's Lovely Electrajet

The band do really seem to have been involved in the design of these, which is nice. Different pickups, switches removed, just a volume knob – ok, so it’s hardly a Matt Bellamy Manson special but better than some of the lazy-assed endorsements out there. But surely the whole point of Sonic Youth is that they took the cheapest half-decent guitars they could find and modded the hell out of them themselves, to make them unique? So isn’t selling a massed-produced guitar that was meant to be different to everything else out there somewhat hypocritical?

A Proper Sonic Youth Guitar

A Proper Sonic Youth Guitar

In any case, I can of course be persuaded to change my mind on delivery of a nice new shiny Classic Player Jazzmaster so I can fulfil my Robin Guthrie/Tom Verlaine/J Mascis fantasies. Delivery to Loft and Lost Mansions, 7, London. Ta.

Anyway, in honour of this astonishing moment in guitar-endorsement history, here’s a few tracks of Sonic Youth abusing guitars, one from their most recent (and not at all bad) “The Eternal” LP, and one from the classic “Sister” LP.

MP3: Malibu Gas Station by Sonic Youth

(this MP3 has been removed as Sonic Youth’s record company apparently object to people posting an MP3 from their new album whilst advertising their nice new expensive guitars)

MP3: White Kross by Sonic Youth

Buy Sonic Youth’s “The Eternal” (CD/MP3)

Buy Sonic Youth’s “Sister” (MP3)

1 Now isn’t the time for the sell-out arguments. Another time, maybe.

2 Believe me, such people do exist.

3 Is it just me or is the whole “Road Worn” concept one of the stupidest things ever? Why not just buy a nice new Tele and bash the hell out of it yourself? Or hey, why not go to your local guitar shop and buy a genuine second-hand guitar, which will have more life and character than anything Fender will sell you for about $500 over the market, as well as supporting your local guitar shop, who quite frankly can probably do with the income?

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The Pitchfork 500 Geek Rock – The Feelies to Mission Of Burma

The last set of songs on the Pitchfork 500 list for 1980-1982 takes us back to the States, with music that was in many ways similar to that discussed in my last couple of posts. Shambolic, rumbunctuous, with a definite amateur feel to them, and three of these four bands won’t be known to your average man on the street1. The other would go on to be one of the biggest bands in the world, selling some 35 million records. Not The Feelies, obviously.

The Feelies – The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness
R.E.M. – Radio Free Europe
Violent Femmes – Blister in the Sun
Mission of Burma – That’s When I Reach for My Revolver

The Feelies are another of those somewhat obscure US bands that obviously some Pitchfork writers are fond of, leaving the rest of us going, “Er, who?” and “What’s so special about this then?”. There’s a definite Joy Division meets Television thang going on (that drumbeat is taken straight from “Interzone”), with a bit of added jangle, not unlike Orange Juice. But unlike Orange Juice there isn’t that special buzz, or tune, or charm, that sucks you in. Can’t say this has grown on me much. If at all.

REM were once described as a art-rock band with a bar-room rhythm section. Certainly that’s partly in evidence in “Radio Free Europe” 2. There’s the combination of that lovely Byrdsian jangle mixed with some slashing chords; Michael Stipe’s opaque lyrics (“Calling on in transit, calling on in transit/Radio Free Europe” – you what, Mikey?); underneath it all is the thumping drums and a nicely flowing bassline.

REM pretty much defined “College Rock”, in the same way that The Smiths would do a year later in the UK to define “Indie Rock”. Cerebral, not scared of a good tune, with enough character and mystery in the lyrics to keep it all interesting. And in this song, REM showed exactly how to do it right.

Many people would have first heard Violent Femmes “Blister In The Sun” as the theme tune to the movie Grosse Point Blank (and Reality Bites, too). And what a great little tune it is too, perfect for a movie about a neurotic hitman. Even if it is about what might be termed “Gentleman’s Pursuits”. “Blister In The Sun” was recently used in the UK, after being changed just enough to remove the meaning of the song, to advertise Fosters beer. Really, I ask you, Fosters. In the US, it’s been used to sell hamburgers.

For all its commercial uses let’s not ignore the fact that it’s a fantastic song, with a hint of the unexpected, the whispered middle eight boiling back into the chorus, making it a great way to pass a few minutes of your time. And to live out your fantasies of being a hitman driving round in an open-top car.

And last in the list is Mission of Burma’s “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”. Mission of Burma can be described as grumpy blokes yelling at no-one; they’re the archetypal unknown band who do their thing in obscurity, and are only discovered after they stop doing what they do so well. Look at the covers of this song you can find on YouTube: Graham Coxon and Moby. How much more diverse do you want to get?

To me, it sounds like REM fronted by Henry Rollins listening to early Joy Division. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, you know. I actually rather like this song, you know, though I’m not entirely clear what exactly they are so grumpy about, as the lyrics are somewhat abstract. Not selling it very well, am I? Go on, go and buy it and make some now middle-aged chaps happy. Or very slightly less miserable, at the least.

So, there we go, a few songs of shambolic US rock and the beginnings of the rather more professional college music scene. It’s been a fun couple of years; somewhat less thrilling than the post-punk years, but with some real gems all the same. Like Orange Juice. And The Beat, Motorhead, Human League and Dead Kennedys. And The Pretenders. It’s been fun.

Next time, it’s just one song. But what a very special song it is.

MP3: Radio Free Europe by REM

MP3: Blister In The Sun by Violent Femmes

MP3: That’s When I Reach For My Revolver by Mission of Burma

Buy The Feelies “Crazy Rhythms” (Ok, it’s not currently available)

Buy REM’s “Murmur” (CD/MP3)

Buy “Permanent Record – The Very Best of The Violent Femmes” (CD)

Buy Mission Of Burma’s “Signals, Calls and Marches: Definitive Edition” (CD)

See the whole list Pitchfork 500 here.

1 I refer you to my earlier John Lydon quote (right at the bottom).

2 First of two entries in the P500, though “Losing My Religion” is bafflingly absent. Cliche? Yep, but it’s their best song, along with “Man On The Moon”. You know I’m right.

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Istanbul and Super Furry Animals

Boss: “What are you doing next week?”
Me: “Oh, this and that, nothing I can’t move”
Boss: “How do you fancy going to Istanbul?”1
Me: “Not Constantinople?”

Ahh, that joke never gets old.

Anyway, that was a week ago. Last week was spent in a frenzy getting everything organised – from a flight to the right Linux distro to wipe an HP RAID array. Don’t ask. And here I am, looking out of the window at my view of the bridge, watching riverboats go by (though there is a parking garage in the way and breakfast costs €45). Still, as my wife said, don’t complain about staying in a nice hotel on the banks of the Bosphorus whilst she is up three times a night with our recalcitrant child. And I can stuff myself silly with Turkish Delight and kebabs. Mmmm kebabs. If anyone reading this has any good tips, feel free to comment.

So, updates will be even rarer than usual.

This week, I’ve finally managed to get into the new Super Furry Animals album, “Dark Days/Light Years”. On first listen I wasn’t that impressed. Nor the second listen. But this week, I tried again and you know what? I still wasn’t impressed. Until I got to the second half of the album. Then, it all clicks into place with some truly fab songs. From “The Very Best of Neil Diamond” to “Lliwiau Llachar” (no, I don’t know either), SFA pull out all the stops. Which is a bit of a shame, in a way, that the rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to these songs.

Don't Do Drugs, Kids!

Don't Do Drugs, Kids!

Still, a half-decent SFA album is still vastly better than most band’s best efforts.

Speaking of Welsh things, the Polish photographer Maciej Dakowicz spent four years in Cardiff taking these photos, whilst studying there. They show the British drinking culture in all its glory – the fast food wrappers, the violence, the blood, and the sheer daftness of the Brits out on the piss.

The Russian Ballet's Recruitment Drive Was Not A Success

The Russian Ballet's Recruitment Drive Was Not A Success

Don't Fancy Yours Much

Don't Fancy Yours Much

What strikes me is how well composed these photos are. I mean, it’s hard enough getting pissed blokes to do anything vaguely sensible, let alone make the shot look like it was posed by a fashion model. Fantastic work.

Buy “Dark Days/Light Years” Here

MP3: Helium Hearts by Super Furry Animals

MP3: Inaugural Trams by Super Furry Animals

1 This is the man who once phoned me and said “Fancy going to Umea?”. When I said “Where’s that?” his reply was a laugh and “No idea!”. It’s near the Arctic Circle. The people are lovely, mind, and there was a very nice dog in the office. I also had a great Swedish menu experience. Long story.

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Review – Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear

There was a joke doing the rounds in the Eighties. Thatcher meets Reagan to talk about the American’s nuclear policy. When she warns Reagan that the route he’s taking could precipitate another world war, he responds “Goddamn it, we were late for the first two, we’re gonna make goddamn sure we’re on time for the third!”. I’m like that with Grizzly Bear albums. I completely missed their first album, “Horn Of Plenty”, and when “Yellow House” became a huge underground hit in 2006, I was so busy looking after our new baby that the only thing I really desired was sleep, sweet, sweet sleep. At some point last year I came across “Knife” and one quick purchase later, “Yellow House” became my album of 2008. Like the Americans in WWII, it’s better to get there eventually than not get there at all.

So when “Veckatimest” was announced back in February, just as I was starting this blog, I thought – “Right, going to be on time for this one”. I’ve found live versions of songs, sniffed out tracks like “Cheerleader” as they got drip-fed to us, and steadfastly ignored the dodgy quality leak that surfaced a couple of months back. Now, with my dirty hands on a proper, legit copy, I can finally listen to the work of art that those lovely chaps crafted for a couple of years. Is it any good? Is it a contender for Album of the Year? Is it as good as “Yellow House”? Will Ed Droste get RSI from Tweeting so much? To which the answers are, yes, probably, possibly, and most definitely.

A Veckatimest, Yesterday

A Veckatimest, Yesterday

Of course, once a band has a big, classic breakthrough album, whatever follows is always going to be in danger of being a disappointment. Look at Broken Social Scene, whose “BSS (Windsurfing Nation)” is in no way a match for “You Forgot It In Others” (7/4 Shoreline excepted, of course). But then look at Tindersticks, whose Second Album was a distillation of everything that was great about their First Album 1 into one even better package of misery and pain. Thankfully, Grizzly Bear have worked hard on diversifying their sound so if you’re expecting Yellow House v2, you might be slightly confounded.

Take the opener, “Southern Point”. Starting off with an intricate guitar pattern, like a baroque Radiohead, it suddenly bursts violently into life at the chorus with thumping drums, flutes, a choir, and lord knows what else. Stunning way to start an album, chaps. Or “Two Weeks” with Ed Droste showing off his polished-up baritone (and doesn’t it sound great?). Check out the freaky Patrick Daughters video here2:

“All We Ask” returns to the Grizzly Bear Template, and is almost disappointing for that, until a remarkable coda, during which the whole band go barbershop-quartet-on-Prozac, singing “I can’t/Get Out/Of What I’m Into/With You”. Meditation on doomed love? Metaphor for band life? Who knows? Who cares, when it sounds so good?

From there, we’ve got the wonders of “Cheerleader”, which you really must have heard by now, and freaked out when you realise he’s singing “I’m shooting them myself/I should’ve made it matter”. The stunning “Ready, Able” takes the chamber-pop template of “Southern Point” and runs with it to gorgeous new places, invoking the spirit of Cocteau Twins on the way.

“About Face”, with its tricky rhythm, has strange keyboard (or possibly guitar) stabs that bring back the memory of mid-80’s Wire. “While You Wait For The Others”, another well-previewed song that hasn’t lost any power through its familiarity, leads the album towards its close.

What strikes me, after the first, ooh, fifteen listens, is the amount of diversity in their sound. You’d forgive them for repeating some of the unusual tricks they showed in older tracks like “Knife” or “Little Brother (Electric)”, or even out and out copying the big hitters, as a lesser band would do. But by and large, they’ve built on what made their last album so fantastic. There’s an adventurousness with the sound that makes comparisons with other bands rather tough. Beach Boys? Check. Radiohead? Check. Anyone else? Didn’t think so.

The only problem is, a few days of listening just isn’t enough. I’m still uncovering bits of “Cheerleader” months after my first listen, just like I was with “Marla” or “On A Neck, On A Spit”. So the question of what I’ll feel about this album by the end of the year is a tough one to answer, and not one I can even hope to answer properly a week after release.

All I can say right now is, it’s worth listening to the hype. Sometimes it’s right.

1 Yes, that’s what they are called. Imagination is a wonderful thing.

2 Member of the fantastic Directors Bureau, whose website is well worth half an hour of your time.

MP3: Ready, Able by Grizzly Bear

MP3: Cheerleader (Live) by Grizzly Bear

Buy “Veckatimest” Here (CD/MP3)

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