Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Indietracks 2009: Saturday

Downdime seem like the sort of band who would almost be hidden away to open proceedings on on the first full day of a festival like this. They're not actively bad, but then they're not immensely memorable, a flattened out jangle that in the end reminds us of nobody so much as Cajun Dance Party, as well as the impulse that it's too warm to stay with this for too long.

Little My are something entirely different. A collective made up of members of assorted Cardiff bands primarily including Silence At Sea, who played a fine set here last year, stretching to the lurking spectre of Gareth from the very un-twee Gindrinker, twelve strong today even before Liz from The School joins for a song, and all in varying degrees of animal costume from plastic ears to full suit. The numbers are filled out by all manner of keyboards, glocks, violin, shaky things direct from the classroom box and what may well be a bowed saw at the back. There's a heart to their impacted songs, though, never just sounding like a bull in a toy shop department. They've covered the Shins on one of their self-released EPs and it's their sunshine pop moments to which Little My aspire.

Strange thing, this Indietracks. Inside the famed corrugated iron church - for one of the few times all weekend, it getting crowded so quickly - is Ray Rumours & The No Eyed Dears, the current project of Ros Murray, formerly bassist in Electrelane. When she turns up behind the merch table later on in the day you're tempted to ask whether the days since that band went on hiatus aren't feeling a little longer. That, though, would be to overlook the captivatingly personal nature of her solo songs, deceptively simple lo-fi singer-songwriter constructions influenced by ramshackle folk. So ramshackle, in fact, that Murray apologises for the band not having properly rehearsed the songs, which accounts for the long pauses between them. Even so, the floating atmosphere they create allows their uplifting nature to wash over you.

Elefant's bill for the main stage starts, belatedly, with Japanese duo Sucrette, who sound like you might imagine J-Pop sounds like - kitschily playful keyboards, soft voiced singer (in Japanese, reading English language announcements off a piece of paper), sugar sweet like featherbed Europop. It passes the time in a gainful way. Tender Trap, not to be confused with any similarly named Australian electro zeitgeist jumpers, were always going to be part of the Indietracks constituency fronted as they are by Amelia Fletcher of Talulah Gosh, who pretty much trademarked a lot of all this, and later Heavenly and Marine Research (any other takers for the latter being her best band?) The patterned dress and tambourine, plus stand-up drummer at the back, scream jangle pop, but Fletcher and long time musical associate Rob Pursey know this stuff inside out. Not all that demanding on a mid-afternoon audience lazing in the sun, full of melodies and thoughtful lyrics on love, and with Fletcher's daughter Dora giving out stickers during the set. Can't say fairer. We will return to Fletcher later in the retelling.

Bostonians One Happy Island are, if anything, even more gleeful and infectious. Like their fellow American joyful indiepop exponents The Smittens, who were all over the place despite oru not getting to see their proper set this year, bittersweetness is something that occurred to them briefly and is hinted at lyrically but the music is so ridiculously likeable, with kazoos, electric ukulele and harmonicas to go with the furious clip of the drumming, the shared out lead vocals and the odd shot at harmony that the weaknesses are camouflaged in a coating of just going with it.

We're not quite sure what to make of the multihanded Fitness Forever, a rush of almost cartoonish in delivery summery lounge-Italo-pop, featuring members in judo gear and a captain's hat, that's virtually too much to take in. What, then, of The Frank And Walters? A band who, while never having actually split up, seem to exist in that pre-Britpop hinterland where bands like Kingmaker had big hits, it doesn't start well when the PA blows roughly three seconds in. Luckily it's a mere power cut that lasts five minutes rather than something terminal, at least it came before any momentum had been built up, and most importantly they'd brought a football with them. When power is restored, as much as their banter sounds like someone imagining what Frank And Walters banter might be like and the songs not from their commercial heyday pass most people by, and even some of those now come across with a James-like stadium ambition that seems out of place in this company, people are going mad for After All and This Is Not A Song, and that's the least you can ask. It does mean, though, that we miss the Specific Heats in the church, a set many go on to talk about not least for their reverb machine literally blowing up on the first chord. It's still hot in there, clearly.

Butcher Boy are, along with Pocketbooks, pretty much at the forefront of the UK leg of this whole indiepop 'thing' at the moment, at least in being those with the greatest capacity to break out. Fronted by John Blain Hunt, who ran Glasgow’s genre defining National Pop League club night for seven years, they Stuart Murdoch’s studied sophistication - maybe a little too close in truth, with the lush arrangements and Motown nods suggesting that If You're Feeling Sinister period - and add a dash of post-Arcade Fire headlong march for a result packed with drama and poetry. Hunt almost has a missionary zeal, and there's plenty who'd go along with him.

Here's an exercise in mixed aggregates. On Elefant's stage Speedmarket Avenue, peppy on record, are dragging horribly. In the church, The Lovely Eggs are nuts. In the nicest possible way, obviously, but just in case the songs about olives as part of the cosmos, carving insults into melons and the not at all self-explanatory Have You Ever Heard A Digital Accordion? weren't signposts that this may not be the most hinged band ever, Holly Ross' wide eyed enthusiasm bordering on quasi-insanity settles it. Songs are based around playgroundish non-sequiturs before devolving from gentle sing-song to noise freakout, all with singalong bits and actual hooks somewhere in the stew. They cover the song from Mike Leigh's Nuts In May, Ross wanders into the packed audience to relay Oh The Stars and then tells us how to differentiate between differently sexed peppers. It's a bit like the Moldy Peaches, yes, but only if relocated to Lancaster and dumped in a vat of children's books about animals with spiked drinks and only Metal Machine Music to listen to. In a very, very odd way, it's fabulous.

A hog roast! And they're stripping the whole sodding thing in front of you! It's like some sort of Viking offering.

Suddenly, there is soul dancing afoot. Cats On Fire's first album saw them, if in thrall to the Smiths and Belle & Sebastian, only such in a hugely likeable and danceable way. Their second earlier this year leant too heavily on the Smiths and was somewhat ropey as a result. None of that seems to matter here, partly because of what we saw the set was heavy on The Province Complains anyway, and partly because it's so joyous, both in a giving and receiving sense. At their best - I Am The White Manteled King, Higher Grounds - they just have it, and people are responding in kind. Singer Mattais Björkas dresses smartly, looks slightly foppish and has the full whack of Morrissey expressions, but then you kind of expect that. And then they go and cover Your Woman by White Town, whose Jyoti Mishra is here and has been a long term supporter of suchlike. An absolute highlight and proof that one bad turn can in no way derail an entire career.

If anything, Camera Obscura seem understandably more in their element watched by a crowd willing them on to greater things. They repay in kind, simultaneously looser and more confident than in recent showings - Tracyanne Campbell cracks a smile on a couple of occasions - and given the leeway to do a couple of slow ones for gentle swaying purposes mid-set, the payoff for the big numbers, Lloyd I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken followed by If Looks Could Kill a particular winner, is well worth the effort. Coming just as the sun starts setting behind the stage, it disproves this theory that they're a lacklustre live band while peaking with a kind of gorgeous epiphany.

Although an overrun briefly threatened and then avoided an awkward clash between all three, the church was too full for Wake The President, and attempting to listen through the wall, while successful to some extent in relaying their current confidence, was a mug's game ultimately. Oddly, though, even though the stage time had already been put back half an hour to accommodate Camera Obscura, the line check for Emmy The Great didn't start until after everyone had piled into the tramshed expectantly. By the time she comes on it's not quite right either - rumoured to have had a car breakdown en route Emma-Lee seems not to be in the right frame of mind and isn't getting into the spirit of things, the band are a keyboard player down and the wait, plus the fact she's technically following two defining sets of the weekend, means she's lost the vast majority of the crowd already. She doesn't seem to be sparking musically either, which might be partly because of how far back we end up but means we come away for the second successive weekend disappointed, albeit for different reasons, with expectations dashed. We don't bother stopping for La Caza Azul, but apparently it was a riot of very un-Indietracks music. Still, a day left.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I concur on Marine Research being the best Amelia Fletcher related project, and am disturbed that it's nearly ten years since the ace Sounds From The Gulf Stream came out (and as such ten years since they kept popping up supporting everyone I went to see, so that by the end of the summer I think Cathy Rogers was slightly scared of me).