18.6.09

My Indie Pop Timeline

Belle & Sebastian are the best British indie pop band since the Smiths. You got that? Good. Actually, for my money, Belle & Sebastian are better than the Smiths -- smarter, warmer, more affecting -- but this may well be music crit heresy right here, so I should shut up quick before a lynch mob gathers outside my doors.

I risk inciting more murderous gangs, but I've gotta say, Belle & Sebastian haven't been bringing it lately. Their finest albums were released all the way back in the 90s (remember them?). The reinvention brought about by 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress delivered some sickeningly squelchy, saccharine anthems to God and love and happiness. The hallmarks of the band I loved -- the heroic introspection, seething sexuality and ambivalent narratives -- were fading. I have yet to listen to 2006's The Life Pursuit, for fear of being even more disillusioned.

Where do we go from here? Does my generation have a band that can ascend to the indie pop throne, and stand beside Belle & Sebastian and the Smiths? If I had been able to phrase this question back in 2005, I would have pinned my hopes on Bloc Party, who came top of my heap in the post-Strokes guitar-pop explosion. Two albums later they've been knocked down a peg, having managed the apparently contradictory feat of serving diminishing returns despite radical innovation.

But there's a new band on the horizon. Their name is Los Campesinos!, and they have what it takes to scale the heights of indie pop greatness. Don't take my word for it, listen to the good folks over at Drowned in Sound. They seem to know what they're talking about. Are you convinced yet?

How could you not be? How can you not marvel at the way a song dedicated to the pristine bliss of dancing like a maniac works in a reference to Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Inequality? How can you not fall in love with counter-point vocalist Alex (now sadly leaving the band) on 'Drop It Doe Eyes'? How can you not feel Gareth's betrayal when he screams in pathetic despair about sand falling from a girl's insoles? How can you not weep at the resignation with which the line 'you should have built a wall, not a bridge' is delivered?

Descriptions of Los Campesinos! as an overwhelming sugar rush confuse me, as their songs are packed with an intense, but tightly controlled, anger and sadness. This isn't a party pop band like the Wombats, the superficial comparison my sister made. Instead, they do exactly what the Smiths and Belle & Sebastian did before them -- scrape misery over jaunty tunes. It's pop, but with a twisted undercurrent running underneath, taking you by surprise, and making you feel something very different from ecstatic joy.

Overloading expectations is not gonna do anyone any good. I just can't help feeling tremendously excited about this band, and what they may grow to become. Their debut album Hold On Now, Youngster... is perfect from start to finish, and you should start spotifying there. But check out how close a second their next effort, called We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and released only five months later, is. Such consistent brilliance is encouraging. I'm optimistic. It looks like British indie pop is gonna get good again.

2 comments:

  1. I love pretty much all of Belle and Sebastian's stuff on some level. Sinister is pretty much perfect, and there's great tracks spread across all their stuff, but I do have to say that my favorite album of theirs is Dear Catastrophe Waitress. It's definitely a different mood and feel than the early work, but I think it works really, and the songs are insanely catchy and work great in a live setting.

    If you didn't like that one, I'd still recommend The Life Pursuit, which hits a nice middle ground between the early stuff and the more over the top work on Waitress. It's a really strong album through and through.

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  2. I like some of the songs on Dear Catastrophe Waitress a great deal. I think 'If She Wants Me' is one of the best songs Murdoch has ever written. But the album really lost me towards the end. If the last three tracks were purged, I would probably have loved it.

    I heard The Life Pursuit's first single 'Funny Little Frog' on the radio and couldn't get into it, which was why I didn't buy the album. The song wasn't insanely cheerful like 'I'm A Cuckoo' or quiet and touching like the 90s stuff. It was midway between the two, and kinda meh. But you're right, I really should listen to the entire album. A few people have already told me it's a lot better than I suspect.

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