Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This Many Boyfriends "Starling" (Angular Records): Allo Darlin' "Capricornia" (Fortuna Pop!)

Time to dig out that in love with these times, in spite of these times all-time avian-themed playlist: "Wings", "Snowbirds Don't Fly", "Pelican Blonde", "Red Kite", "Lark Descending", "New Birds", "Chickens", "When Owls Cry", anything and everything by Jackdaw With Crowbar and, a little less satisfactorily, Sportsguitar's "Tits". The latest addition comes courtesy of This Many Boyfriends, and while their name will always conjure up fond memories of Calvin Johnson and sparse, snare-led DIY pop, the band themselves are continuing on a resolutely upward 'alternative / indie' trajectory which includes the obligatory Cribs support slot and a tie-up with Domino Recording Co partner, Angular.

Happily, the music is as endearingly ramshackle as ever. A little like last year's Evans The Death single, "Starling" fair froths with heady youthful vigour, sounding faintly as if Period Pains were playing early Soup Dragons. The song has it all: up and down guitars, careering Subway Org drum-thud, wiry melodies, offhand vocals, some fetching early Soup Dragons-y shouted "ba-ba-bas" and an enervating but thankfully brief guitar solo, before the song reaches resolution around the 150-second mark.

Lyrically, it neatly pays frayed testament to callow youth at the same time as harbouring dreams of a settled future, although the ornithological references are sadly limited to an acknowledgment that starlings are, um, prone to self-preen 'til they're clean and pristine. No doubt if TMB had time for a third verse, they would have been able to get something in about how starlings' seemingly dark plumage actually conceals the grandeur of striking turquoisey hues, although pleasingly the impeccably pretty sleeve has a good stab at doing the bird justice.

The B-side, too, "Just Saying" (a dig at the vacuity of the ubiquitous pin-up popstar) sports even more yelled "ba-ba-bas", alongside marvellous Bubblegum Splash! bass plod and another guitar line straight outta Belshill, 1986. Anyway, all this renders "Starling" a perfect companion - a feathered friend, you might say - to arguably This Many Boyfriends' previous highspot, the equally bright and raffish "I Don't Like You ('Cos You Don't Like The Pastels)" from their first EP: a disc officially celebrated by one esteemed source from north London, lest we forget, as the 93rd best single of 2010.

And then there are Allo Darlin', who This Many Boyfriends are supporting before they hook up with the Cribs, although it's fair to say that AD's polished "Capricornia" feels a world (well, a hemisphere) away from the appealingly scruffy TMB single. Back in 2009, while watching summer dissolve into autumn, we tripped across "Henry Rollins Don't Dance" and proclaimed it "intelligent, sassy, witty and tuneful", before - less gallantly - bracketing it with "faintly whimsical" indie-pop and pointing out that it wasn't as good as Black Flag or Minor Threat. (It would later be crowned the 83rd best single of 2009). Their output since has made a similar impression on us: always somewhere between admirable and lovable, but never *connecting* as we'd like. But then this single, the latest breezy, bright delight from the Fortuna Pop! stable, is seemingly precision-engineered to extract maximum joy: it blows plenty of recent indie-pop out of the water, including their own.

"Capricornia" navigates the fragrant waterways of classic tunedom with uncanny ease, setting one in mind of the effortlessness of "Streets Of Your Town", or the irresistible rush of Even As We Speak's "Falling Down The Stairs". It's a heartfelt tribute to Elizabeth's native central Queensland and the bittersweetness of leaving it behind, but although it rings with longing it never loses sight of the fact that it's also on a sparkling popsong tip: a crisp production shines through as the vocal melodies coalesce with guitars that alternately jangle and chime, like Creation-era Razorcuts at their most upbeat.

And it's just a thought, but... there are some records that *deserve* to bridge that gap between our own modest indie-pop wants and the wider world of radio-friendly, timeless pop, and the copper-bottomed "Capricornia" is surely one of those. Remember: we're old enough to remember Even As We Speak being played on Radio 1, and thus allowed to dream such crazy dreams. Oh, and in these barbarous times when proper use of the apostrophe is taking a bit of a battering (the latest salvo in this "war against intelligence" comes with Waterstone's deciding to shed the apostrophe completely), it's good to see that Allo Darlin' are hanging on to theirs.

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