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”.


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.