I’m tryin’ to keep up

I had something else planned for today, namely an interview with Bird and Flower (Eve Searls from Super Desserts) conducted a fortnight ago, but last week I was (sadly) reminded of one reason The Indie Handbook exists. So, there will be no interview today. This is a eulogy.

The city of Birmingham (that’s Birmingham, England for those of you who will not understand the topical references I shall make in the second half of this sentence) is not without its faults, including sins against the Queen’s English (sorry, I mean the Queens English), but in true Semipelagian fashion, I have to believe even ol’ Brum isn’t totally depraved. After all, native sons and resident proponents of guitar pop tinged with Victoriana, Envy & Other Sins, released what I still think was the best and most cohesive album of 2008 – a feat not to be repeated with their sophomore effort slated to come out later this year. Why? Because Envy & Other Sins is no more.

The Indie Handbook will be forever linked with E&OS. My assessment of We Leave at Dawn was the inaugural post on this blog. While the direction of this blog may have altered slightly since that first post, my opinion of the band remains unchanged. I am not even going to attempt to explain the situation (though if any of the guys read this and would like to explain it to me, I would love to know). By all accounts “nice guys” and a “really credible band”, E&OS really only made one mistake as far as I can tell. They were liked by the wrong people – people like me who don’t care that they were on a TV show – people who don’t get all wet at the thought of NME and refuse to swallow Pitchfork without asking questions (“You want me to put that where???”).

Interestingly enough, within a week of E&OS announcing their breakup (you’re going to love this), the very first person to read this blog (an old friend whose reaction to my review was “It’s not very good, is it?” [I liked it too much. She is now a huge E&OS fan.]) announced that she was going to distance herself from me because I (and this blog) had become “pompous and dreadful” (i.e. I was too mean about Death Cab and Fleet Foxes).

But I have other friends who do still like me and this blog. Also (thank God), we still have some of the boys from Envy & Other Sins. If you’ve been with us for a while, you may remember that I made mention of some solo work being done by Ali M Forbes. Well, it’s not a solo effort anymore. Jim Macaulay, drummer of E&OS has joined his former (and once again current) cohort (and a band of others) to form Malpas. Check out their MySpace and Facebook. “Under Her Sails” is still a work of genius. The other songs are not without merit and possess that endearing strangeness that can only come from the sort of minds that would bring their own furniture to a gig. I think I speak for myself when I say: “Ali, Jim – welcome (back) to the fray. Thanks for sticking around”.


An open letter to “cool” kids everywhere

In case you have forgotten, there are some big releases due out next Tuesday the 23rd (Monday for you Brits). I was going to review one of them, God Help the Girl, tonight, but I got distracted (more on that later). Instead, expect a double review on Monday (GHG, and Regina Spektor’s Far). Also on the cards in the near-ish future, Imogen Heap announced yesterday that her new album, Ellipse, will be released (in the States) 25 August, which is also the scheduled release date for Fun’s upcoming Aim and Ignite. But the biggest news of the day, at least for me (and not only because I love Welsh accents), The School have finished recording their debut LP! With mixing and stuff still to be done, they are aiming for an October release. So excited!

So, anyway, why are you not reading a review right now. Well, I was doing a bit of research whilst writing my God Help the Girl review and came across this analysis over at Drowned in Sound. I am not going to argue with the judgment of the author because he has had a lot of time to listen to listen to a hard copy of the record whilst I have had only recently had a couple of passes through an online stream. I do, however, take issue with the tone of the article, because it seems that Mr. Tudor has fallen victim to his own coolness.

We are not 100 words into the article before he declares God Help the Girl to be “another step backwards”–for Belle & Sebastian. Funny thing, though. This is not a Belle & Sebastian record. Judging GHG in light of Tigermilk or If You’re Feeling Sinister is like calling Band On the Run a step back for the Beatles because it’s not The White Album. I suppose it would not be completely justified to take Mr. Tudor too severely to task for the style of his critique. As a reviewer, it is essential to recognize that there are certain landmarks within each genre (for instance C86 or the Velvet Underground) and that they are necessary in describing other albums and artists. And in a genre that was in many ways created by Belle & Sebastian 13 years ago and dominated by them throughout the ensuing decade, B&S references are inevitable. Perhaps, he has simply taken that comparison a step too far. (Ironically, I suspect that, frequently, reviewers are not nearly as familiar with the reference points they invoke as they let on. I, for instance, have never actually heard the C 86 compilation, but that hasn’t stopped me from referencing it on several occasions. Or, everyone touts the “literary influences” of Belle & Sebastian, but how many of them have actually read John Whiting’s The Devils? [For the record, I have.])

Now, it is quite possible that, upon closer examination, I will not like God Help the Girl. They may not arouse in me the undying devotion that Belle & Sebastian do. Be that as it may, it will be a strike against God Help the Girl, not against B&S. Who knows, it might even awaken the ennui in me and I will find something in the album to be entirely indifferent about. You will have to wait until Monday to find out. But I have listened to it a couple of times and, unfortunately, I like it. I guess I’m not a critic after all, but one of those pathetic, toxic creatures who typically reserve their passion for football clubs and SciFi television programs. I am a fan. Luckily, I live in the American Midwest where we’re all backwards, inbred, and friendly to begin with and you will never have to come within 35,000 feet of me.