Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Hobbes Fanclub "Your Doubting Heart" (Shelflife)

From park avenue to valley parade, the fair burghers of Bradford have little indie-pop limelight to revel in. Instead, they must fall back wearily on distinctly secondhand glories: having one of the (many, ephemeral) new Smiths named after the city (a group who were actually from Blackburn anyway), plus a solitary and typically random M.E.S. shout-out on one of the myriad remixes of "Hit The North". Happily, the Hobbes Fanclub are in a mood to do something about indiedom's longstanding neglect of their hometown, and this - the third instalment in their sonic adventures so far - packs a punch which should resonate well beyond their native West Yorkshire.

Until now, Hobbes FC's finest moment was probably "Outside Yourself", from their Cloudberry split with Young Michelin,

"Original no, somewhat derivative yes, but sparkling all the same... a rush of fuzzy-enough guitars, little-boy-lost vocals, just grooving along and hoovering up any hooks and rushes in the general vicinity"

but "Your Doubting Heart", a 7" single on premium US indie Shelflife (you know: Brideshead, "Picnic Basket", "Tactical POP! for Coffee Cadets" , all that), continues their ascent. This is the kind of muscular indie-pop that we hear too little of these days, but that first bloomed in the very last knockings of the 1980s and the early years of the 1990s, after all those impatient indie bands who couldn't face going "dance" had turned instead to harvesting Homestead, SST or noise influences in their efforts to woo the music press (some went for volume, some went pseudo-shoegaze, most of them then signed to Creation for a while, all of them secretly wanted to be as cool as J Mascis).

Now bear with us. We are not suggesting that the Hobbes Fanclub themselves sound like those bands: for a start, they've more regard for melody, and less for fleeting fashions. Where we're going with this (yes, it's digression time) is that it was that period, rather neglected by modern-day chronologers of indie-pop's evolution, that helped spawn fine yet still-underrated combos like the Edsel Auctioneer and, a few short summers later, Boyracer. These were groups who enthusiastically embraced the resurgence of raucous guitars, but were also schooled in, and moulded by, the post-C86 canon. (Some of you may doubt the Auctioneer's janglist credentials: but Summershine, who a knew a belting indie-pop song when they heard one, had no qualms about putting out a single by them).

The bands that we were in back then desperately tried to emulate this shift in the musical zeitgeist: but parents and irate neighbours soon put a stop to us turning up the amps. Thankfully, others seemed unencumbered by such strictures, making these - however briefly - heady days. We're plucking artists a bit randomly from our fond rememberings, but how about Razorblade Smile, the Lavender Faction, Aspidistra, the Sunflowers... gosh, those names take us back. Hell, even Gentle Despite went a bit "rocky" with their slept-on second single. And (getting back to the point now!) it's the unashamedly boisterous take of many such bands on the shambling sound - perhaps taking its lead from the Mary Chain's crucial liberation of the love song from the shackles of AOR balladry - that can be glimpsed on this cracking 7", too.

"Your Doubting Heart" grabs us that same way, a tale of distrust and mistrust that mixes simmering, iridescent guitars with free-roaming and high-in-mix bass, satisfyingly clattering drums and Racer-esque female backing vocals. It's about a relationship soured by jealousy, maxing on a poignant "having friends is not a crime" line which all of us, at some point, will have had reason to identify with. By the end, singer Leon is simply asking for him and his beau to treat each other the same way, and as that doesn't seem such a big ask, you really feel for him. Flames and feedback, vivid and flickering, this is the kind of indie A-side that one could easily imagine people weren't making any more, but we're utterly delighted they are. It's not *quite* Boyracer: one of the beauties of Boyracer was that even at their brilliant best, their songs still felt that they could fall apart at any moment, a fragility to be savoured, whereas the Hobbes Fanclub seem more assured, safer from implosion. But "Your Doubting Heart" drives us towards the same hallowed ground nevertheless.

On the other side "The One You Love", though still pacey, is (marginally) less feral, the Fanclub penning a hymn of regret for letting a lover down, combined with the age-old plea to be forgiven. It's possible to listen to it and see it as a retort, an answer record, a literal and figurative flipside to "Your Doubting Heart". Again, though, the guitars glimmer and shine, and while it may lack a little of the memory-pricking magic of the 'A', it confirms that the latter's confidence was no fluke. And that the Hobbes Fanclub are developing into (yet another) band to get quietly excited about.

In 2012, it feels relatively rare for indie-pop to fully realise the same tangles of noise and emotion which flourished in those earlier, pre-Br*tp*p days: our scene now paints on a wider canvas, equally comfy with polished jangle, farfisa retro, folksy slo-fi, or coy electro. If this had come out in the early 1990s (on Sunday, or Slumberland, or Fluff, or Lust ?) we'd have celebrated it too, but not as such a breath of fresh air. And I know we say this pretty much all the time but - what the hell - it makes it so much sweeter to hold this on vinyl, just as with all the bands mentioned above, just as with the recent June Brides and Black Tambourine singles, just as with so many of the brightest indie-pop 45s of the last half-dozen years, from "Cross The Line" and "Tracyanne" right through to "Tally".

It's the wonder of the artefact, you know, and it gets us *every time*.

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