This is the International Tweexcore Underground

In many ways, the city of Glasgow is a driving force behind The Indie Handbook (and not just because I am of Scottish descent and not-so-secretly wish I could live there)–it is also the home of indie gods Belle & Sebastian (and one of my celebrity crushes, Isobel Campbell). No, this is not about Belle & Sebastian, seminal as they may be, you already know how fabulous they are. This is about fellow Glaswegians, Strawberry Whiplash, a band with one of the best names I have ever heard.

Strawberry Whiplash are Laz McLuskey (who writes the songs, plays the instruments, and also records as Bubblegum Lemonade) and someone named Sandra (who sings the songs that Laz writes). You probably wouldn’t actually have to listen to Strawberry Whiplash or see a list of their influences to have an idea what to expect, a photo of Laz with his classic red Rickenbacker would be sufficient. But for those of you not as presumptious as I am, think of that jangly C86 guitar sound with a Velvet Underground fuzziness (see also: “Factory Girl”, a musical homage to Warhol’s “poor little rich girl”, Edie Sedgwick).

The band is part of an impressive lineup on Santa Barbara’s own MatinĂ©e Recordings (including Bubblegum Lemonade, Cats on Fire, the Electric Pop Group, and the Hermit Crabs). I will probably refer to this roster a lot in the future. But right now, I am only concerned with the distinctive, cutting Rickenbacker jangle and Isobel Campbell-like vocals of Strawberry Whiplash. They have released one EP, Who’s In Your Dreams, all of which you can hear on their MySpace.

My favorite thing about Strawberry Whiplash: they are self-defined “part-time indie popsters” with real jobs, like we are, but we (much to my dismay) do not live among the Scots (and their intoxicating accents).

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We leave at dawn, so you’d better pack your suitcase

Fair warning: what follows flies in the face of indie logic–what is left of it, anyway. If this is going to be a problem for you, then I suggest you squeeze yourself into your skinny jeans, put on a Death Cab record, and pretend someone cares what you think. Those of us who like music will carry on without you.

A true indie kid has a moral obliation to despise any artist who has launched a career via The X Factor or American Idol or some other program of that ilk. (I still love you, Kelly. Will you Marry Me?) Envy & Other Sins (MySpace) is one of those bands. They gained notoriety through Channel 4’s Mobile Act Unsigned in the waning months of 2007, booted from the competition early on before being voted back on as a wild card by a dedicated fan base (myself included). Their debut, We Leave At Dawn, was released a scant three months later. Now, nearly a year out, it remains in heavy rotation on my playlist and spends more time in the passenger seat of my car than anyone else.

Put simply, this is a brilliant piece of work. The opening tracks, “Morning Sickness” and “Almost Certainly Elsewhere” flow seemlessly one into the other. “Highness“, the first and only track I heard before the release of this album had me hooked from the first chorus. “Step Across” and “Man Bites God” are pure pop genius, culminating in a passage that bears a remarkable resemblance to Maroon 5 (minus the teeny bopper fan base and Wal-Mart shelf space, and therefore, you know, better). The brooding “Don’t Start Fires” and oddly anthemic closer “Shipwrecked” show the band at its most dramatic and, arguably, best. That is not to take anything away from the other three tracks (“Martyr“, “The Company We Keep”, and “Talk To Strangers”) that make up the latter half of We Leave At Dawn. In fact, “The Company We Keep” is one of the highlights of the album for me.

This album is replete with some of the most literate and engaging songwriting I have heard in some time yet never grows predictable or pretentious. The melodies are memorable and never dull, aided by modal shifts that would make Schubert jealous and metric displacement that is unsettling, disorienting, and wholly brilliant. The liner notes, too, are done in a masterfully executed neo-deco style. A work of art in their own right, rather than distract the listener, they perfectly complement and enhance the Gatsbian experience that is We Leave At Dawn.

I have listened to We Leave At Dawn five times today. I am about to press the repeat button again. For my money, this is the best album of 2008, hands down.