Sunday, July 26, 2015

Come Rain Or Shine: The Popguns “Still Waiting For The Winter” EP (Matinée Recordings)

Welcome back to in love with these times, in spite of these times, the indie-pop fanzine that’s owned by the system and controlled by Babylon.

The reasons are legion, I suspect, why we never came to be as accepted as we’d once hoped within the international brotherhood and sisterhood of indie-pop blogs. There are the known reliability and punctuality issues, although our high-tech phalanx of robot engineers are working tirelessly behind the scenes to try and fix these. And there is the alleged tendency to start reviews, when they do eventually emerge, by wandering off at an inconsequential tangent, when any readers who might be left after 16 years of this are probably hoping their perseverance be rewarded by at least an attempt to describe the record in the blog post title, instead of having to scroll through a roundabout, laboured and in all likelihood irrelevant point by way of “introduction”. Anecdotally, we understand that the digressions about digressions are the most enervating of all.

But maybe there’s a more fundamental tenet of indie-pop philosophy on which we fall short; a deeper reason why we find ourselves locked out of the love-in. And it strikes us, as we narrowly dodge a lorry whilst sprinting across the A1 just to secrete ourselves on the shady side of the street, that perhaps it’s this: the fact that we’ve never, truth be told, been particularly fond of the summer, that super sunny summer season of sunny sundae smiles that all our favourite indiepop tunes are apparently meant to endlessly soundtrack. Here at our indefatigably miserabilist capital city HQ, we’ll take sodden autumn or glistening snowscape over T-shirt weather and ‘son of Intertoto’ nonsense every day, and the fourth Undertones single is probably the one we love the least (I know, new heresies daily. It could be the “Please Rain Fall” vs. "Solace" controversy all over again).

Don’t get us wrong, summer is peachy – well, apart from the hay fever, the sunburn, the sweating, the traffic fumes hanging in the air, the hothouse of the Underground, and that curse of "British people in hot weather" (© M.E. Smith) as pavements froth with blotchy red-faced blokes who can't hold their ale and the parks teem with loudly yapping fairweathers in their hipster finery, oh, and “midges hover in the heather" (er, M.E.S. again) - it’s just that sometimes, just to escape the scene’s fetishisation of the sporadic heatwaves of midsummer, we’d rather be reminded of where our natural affinities lie, of the incomparable beauty of those months of shorter days and longer nights: how a coating of snow makes the evening bright, the roads aflame as the lamplights reflect the white. Or something. Thus we spend July and August waiting for the winter… hoping for the rain… that sort of thing (yes, we’re getting there at last. It’s a bit like listening to Thought for the Day, isn’t it, when you have to wait patiently for the “bridge” at which they segue the topic they started with into the actual bit about God).

So where we find *our* heaven at this time of year is in a summer single with a distinctly hivernal flavour. *Especially* when it comes from a First Division outfit like Brighton’s own Popguns, following their formidable assault on anno domini 2014 via the dual media of live entertainment and recorded sound.

The title tune of this EP, plucked from their comeback - and for what it’s worth, their best - long-player, “Pop Fiction”, is of course a sequel of sorts to their second single, the blistering “Waiting For The Winter” (which would become 1/9th of “Eugenie”, one of those compact discs which was never in its case because it basically lived in our CD player back then). When a band, all grown-up, knowingly references its back catalogue (rather than just endlessly recycling it) the results can be very affecting: think of the Mary Chain’s delicate and touching “Never Understood”, for example. It can also produce surprisingly powerful results when the band play the two songs in quick succession, as the Popguns did at the Borderline last year.

”Still Waiting” positively revels in the chance to prove that it’s a humdinger of a single in its own right: it lightly deploys some of the chord sequences and lyrics from the original 45, but feels more measured and reflective, with a narrative that from the start - as Wendy paints a picture of a wedding disco ringing in the distance - juxtaposes the aspiration of youth and the wisdom of experience, before finally combining the two in a dual-vocal final flourish. If you then go back and listen to the original (1989!) single again, it strikes you how frantic that is by comparison, despite all the hooks and melodies: a whipped-up storm of guitars underpinning passionate lyrics about changing, becoming bitter, angrier and more confused. You really feel you need a sit down.

Handily, then, the rest of the new EP is mellow and more downtempo, but despite its calming wiles the songwriting and settings make it as dramatic – and as pretty! – as the impressive suite of songs that made up the album. “BN3” (Hove, Actually) rings with the fresh, lilting guitar chimes of those Morrissey/Marr ballads, via the unlikely first-verse setting of a cricket ground, before giving way to Kate’s superb “Why You Fell In Love With Me”, a knowing meditation on love and loss that sets the seafront-sur-Cuckmere against the Mississippi, and that we can half-imagine the great Crystal Gayle turning her tonsils to. The fourth and final treat, “Diane’s Song”, fits swimmingly with the wintry timbre of the whole record, as Wendy sings movingly of break-up and death (both can be brutal, but the memories are worth treasuring, even at the cost of teardrops dripped on the back seat of a taxi). The arrangement is stark and absolutely compelling. And then, with the sun sinking back down behind the cityscape for the very last time, Diane’s lament softly concludes: “alone in the dark, synapses spark / dreams of the melodies / that flow to my heart”. Then silence.

All this makes “Still Waiting For The Winter” an extended play that provides a sparkling oasis of respite from the industrial doses of techno, grime, and Napalm Death that have otherwise been bossing the turntable here. And in doing so it amply makes its point. Records like this are why – however disengaged or disentangled we get from our indie-pop roots at times – we know we’ll always find ourselves hankering for more. Whatever the weather.

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