Monday, July 02, 2012

Bart and Friends "There May Come A Time" (Matinée Recordings)

There's a tendency these days (and we are as guilty of it as anyone) to refer to any band that contains two or more people who were once in another band as a "supergroup". In fact, the incestuous nature of our 'scene' and the um, increased maturity in years of many of our favourite indie-pop stars and starlets make such hook-ups pretty much inevitable. Indeed, if you leave aside the still-too occasional fresh-faced combos that torpedo straight from Year 12 into our hearts, pretty much *all* bands doing any serious time on the circuit are technically "supergroups".

On the other hand, there are times when only the s-word will do. Sportique, obviously. The Traveling Wilburys, famously. Freebass, alarmingly. Westside Connection, indubitably. And when a new EP from Bart and Friends hoves into view, rest assured that we have no qualms whatsoever about rolling out the term (and the red carpet) for them, too.

The first time we heard an instrument plucked in vain by Bart Cummings was when we grabbed Girl Of The World's 7" on Heaven Records ("Bart - the bass guitar") from the concrete bunker in Bristol that housed Replay Records. Terrific single from a much-underrated trio, but of course it is only the tiniest fragment of a formidable catalogue of inspired Melbourne-born and Bart-featuring platters from the Cat's Miaow, the Shapiros, Pencil Tin, Hydroplane and the ever-shifting line-up of Bart & Friends themselves (although there *is* one constant in that line-up: see if you can guess who), plus a heavenly host of others. It was also Bart who, in his guise as Library Records, put out not only one of our favourite ever indie-pop compilations, "A Little Help For East Timor", but also the "Munch" video which led to us belatedly discovering Black Tambourine (without which our world would therefore be a bleaker place).

On this six-track extended play on all-time top ten label Matinée Recordings, the Friends of Bart include Mark Monnone (the 'smiths, of course), Louis Richter (latterly a 'smith, and once of Mid-State Orange, whose "Flag Festival" we reviewed a zillion years ago), a revolving cast of drummers including Jeremy Cole of the Zebras (last seen - by us, at any rate - rocking the Luminaire a while back) and none other than Pam "yes, *the* Pam Berry" Berry (the Tambourine, the Shapiros, the Pines) on lead vocals. All well and good, you say, and makes for a fabulous Rock Family Tree, but what about the music ?

Well, the title tune is not the kind of uptempo jukebox jangler you might expect to begin proceedings. Instead, it's a disarming and vaguely sombre song, arrayed over a luxurious (for B&F) three minutes, which sees Ms Berry unfold a bittersweet tale to bright percussion and lush if muted guitars, as the gentlest of melodies rise and fall, rose petals scatter in their wake, and hints of the Shapiros flutter by in the soft breeze. By the end, as Pam angelically sings "to see you smile, from across the room..." the tension is palpable, almost unbearable.

The opener is followed by a cavalcade of little bombs. "A Kiss You Won’t Forget" is a real treat, a masterly marriage of craft and melody, of trembling reverb and pealing Sarah alto, of jangle and soft fuzz. It's a song that epitomises the B&F canon, for despite being compact it's still able, without ever feeling rushed, to tell a fetching and complete tale about memories captured and held close to your heart, the kind that pricks us more and more as we grow older and further away from our own past crushes and romances.

Next, the galloping "There Are So Many Things I’d Like To See" - more naked sentiment, driven by a groovesome, upwardly mobile bassline - becomes the second marvellous sub-one minute song on Matinée within a matter of months (ha, we'll have them releasing grindcore yet). Similarly honest and captivating, "These Words Are Too Small" then sees Bart (via Pam) make a virtue of not being able to express his feelings, the song chiming all the time with that classic Victoria pop sound. "A Summer's Dream" completes the EP, and while it slows the pace back down, it also finishes with a ringing and naïf guitar-line which could have been written by the young Keris Howard (or, as last year's ace Hit Parade B-side proved, written by Julian Henry channelling the young Keris Howard). If we close our eyes, we can almost see the orange duckpond sleeve of "Around The World In 80 Days"', and remember the many special moments brought to us by the music within (apologies, but when I'm listening to great indie-pop, my head often falls into this kind of muggy reverie).

So, yes. Bart and Friends are a group. And they're super. And "There May Come A Time" is an EP as sweet, as joyful and as treasurable as an Andrea Pirlo spot-kick.

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