Pale Sunday "The Fake Stories About You And Me" (Matinée Recordings)
If we had a pound for every Pale Sunday release over the past decade we'd have... well, barely enough to buy a pint: the estimable Jardinopólis, São Paulo quartet don't exactly deluge their devotees with new material. So, because having new Pale Sunday "product" to review doesn't happen every day, please allow us to reminisce a little first.
When they released their first Matinée EP, "A Weekend With Jane" in 2003 we branded it
"tight, focused, jangly indie, drawing much from the pristine international tradition of compatriots brincando de deus as well as the european likes of brideshead and aerospace"
and on re-listening to it now that doesn't seem unfair: there's a definite post-Sarah thing going on, plus the reassuring drum machine thwack of many a blazin' indie-pop tune over the years. Mind you, that's only the half of it: for every time we cop an earful of the hooks on the title track or on the closing "Girl With Sunny Smile" we have to be physically restrained from hailing a cab to the airport, stowing away on a plane to South America and trying to find and bear-hug everyone who's ever had anything to do with Pale Sunday.
Next, in 2005, came the group's only full-length to date, "Summertime ?" (not-Porgy & Bess inspired!) although with unedifying negligence we managed, as far as I can tell, not to review the LP at all, only managing a few words instead on its touchpaper-lighting first track, "The White Tambourine":
"a song made not by its happily sherbet verses, but by the exhilarating bursts of noise that then kick in, at just the right time"
yet immersing ourselves in the album again we realise that we really shouldn't have left it at that. Yes, we still worship at the altar of "The White Tambourine", because even now those extra injections of guitar tend to knock us sideways (forget the icing on the cake, they're more like an extra cake, with icing, on top of the icing on the already-delicious cake). But other morsels on show, like "Mary" and the nr-anthemic "Never Fall Apart", are just as tastily tuneful (and could easily have led off EPs in their own right).
The Sunday then went AWOL awhile, as we understand it splitting up and re-forming before the "Shooting Star" EP appeared a couple of years ago. With that record came the underpinnings of a more polished sound, the title track in particular being the closest they'd come to summer radio staple,
"newly confident, a strident, riproaring popsong which combines the necessary "we're back!" feel with a whiff of mid-period BMX Bandits and a pleadingly naive protagonist ("I can prove to you I'm different / if you'll just give me a chance": she'll have heard that before, matey). It's fizzy, instant and satisfying"
'tho the accompanying "Are You Scared To Get Happy ?" garnered still higher plaudits:
"seamlessly interweaves the coursing indiepop melodies of halcyon days past with a little more good ol' fash fuzzy six-string strum, and the "downhill" section to the end, which repeats the title whilst accumulating some lovely string-like harmonies along the way, is pure gold."
So that's the potted history. Now, bounding over a grateful horizon, comes "The Fake Stories About You And Me", a new and intriguingly-titled four-course serving of Pale Sunday's ever-vibrant, sun-tinged indie-pop. It's also the third of Matinée's hat-trick of soaraway, super sunny summer singles (on the heels of the Bart and Friends and Charlie Big Time EPs).
The lads certainly land on their feet with opening salvo "Happy (When You Lived Here)". While it doesn't pack quite the hit parade-punch of "Shooting Star", we'd back our past analogies and say there are shades of Creation-era BMX Bandits on this one too, although we appreciate that our Bandits comparisons perhaps elide into the Teenage Fanclub ones being deployed elsewhere. Lyrically, singer Luiz Gustavo plays a once-conscientious man driven to cigarettes, alcohol and bunking off work by his girlfriend's untimely upping of sticks, although despite a nagging fear during the song that he's going to end up in the Priory (or worse), it thankfully ends on an upbeat note when he realises that he's just going to have to dust himself down and get on with it. Atta boy, Luiz: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
"About My Life" follows and in some ways it's a more obvious 'sell' to indie-pop pickers: a buzzing guitar line quickly gains traction, and while the 90s sound of young(ish) Scotland rings most smilingly from the speakers, there's also - hurrah! - a chugging soupcon of '00s Wedding Present guitar. The third tune, "That's The Way", initially feels a bit throwaway, and the lyrical references to "getting high" seem decidedly retro, but the verses are just as driving as those on "About My Life" and the only shame really is that just as the song is properly getting into its stride (embarking on a glorious slightly-shoegaze instrumental section which resembles the Beatnik Filmstars circa "Laid Back And English") a studio engineer with a grudge decides to fade it out. Oy!
Then it's over almost as soon as it began, because before we know it the EP is waving us off at the station with a soul-soother, "The Winter Song", a stripped-down and delicate number urging optimism in hard times, and bolstered by a gorgeous wash of strings. There's an elegant piano melody too which, unfolding itself so late in the EP, recalls how "Strangeways", the final track on their album, was similarly illuminated by mellifluous piano tones. (Us being us, we also think of the piano that so wonderfully encroached on Brighter's "Summer Becomes Winter", and fantasise that "The Winter Song" could be a nod to Brighter's "A Winter's Tale" flexi: failing that, there are definitely hints of Harper Lee at play, so if "Summer's Day" was Electric Pop Group's Keris Howard tribute, then perhaps "The Winter Song" is Pale Sunday's). Regardless of its precise influences, though, the song is a little gem, one that twinkles crisply through the curtain of the night sky.
Looking at all their records in the round, "The Fake Stories..." is definitely Pale Sunday's most mature and focussed EP yet (the vocals have a newfound confidence too, with the titbits of falsetto feeling almost disturbingly contemporary) but the subtle shifts in style over time are a good thing, particularly as we were running out of synonyms for "fizz" and "fuzz". Were it not for the fact that we'd sworn a solemn oath not to bang on about random Braziliana in Pale Sunday reviews anymore, we'd now be explaining how they mean even more to us than "Refuse / Resist", "Roots Bloody Roots" and Josimar.
Instead, we're going to treat ourselves to that pound for each Pale Sunday outing, and we're going to buy that pint, and raise a glass to them. Each time they've managed to get a new record out over that last ten years, it's lit up an otherwise grey day several thousand miles away, here in the English city. A toast is the least their persistence deserves.