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EP & Album - A Review.

Posted by Arthur on November 4, 2012 at 7:25 AM

I' ve never been too good with trying to describe what my records sound like.

I'm never that good at trying to get people to be kind enough to buy them.

This review says everything I could possibly wish for.

Please read it, and if you think, it sounds like someone has poured their heart and soul into the making of these records, please buy them. Thanks.

 

Our Arthur "Strange About The Rain" EP (A Work Of Heart):

Our Arthur "Humour Me" (A Work Of Heart)

 

The Beatnik Filmstars were an exceptional band. By our reckoning, over the course of 17 years they were responsible for 11 albums, 17 singles, 5 compilations, 5 Peel Sessions, a complete box set and a DVD (courtesy of at least fifteen different labels, including heavyweights such as Summershine, Slumberland, Merge, 555 and Track & Field). In that time they lurched between (and invariably mastered) psychedelic dreamgaze, raucous indie-rock, fizzing lo-fi, grown-up melodic pop and so much more. Unlike others with such a prolific catalogue, the quality levels remained high: their back catalogue leaves us with such great (but profoundly different) songs as "Curious Role Model", "Hospital Ward" and "Bigot Sponger Haircut Policy".

 

As if that wasn't enough, former Filmstars frontman Andrew Jarrett has been involved in a variety of other musical enterprises, ranging from the thrill-rush of the legendary Groove Farm in the 1980s through to the garage band capers of his recent Nervous Rex project, but also including two of the most underrated Bristol acts ever, the shimmeringly quiet-fi aesthetes Kyoko and his supreme solo outing as the Bluebear. However, it's to Mr Jarrett's latest venture, Our Arthur, that we now turn.

There was a brief preview of Our Arthur a few months back, when a tune called "I'll Wait For The Summer" featured on Vollwert's "No Sleep 'Til Torcross" compilation (a CD somewhat criminally limited to 100 copies). "I'll Wait" was smart, melodic, lyrically a little bitter, and suggested that the new venture merited further investigation. This is now confirmed by two 'proper' releases. And while Andrew (Arthur) Jarrett is at the heart of them both, they also feature a host of other contributors, many of whom are longtime collaborators.

 

"Strange About The Rain" is the single (OK then, the lead track on a six-track EP) and it's been chosen wisely: if you sighed in sympathy with the majesty of the last Beatnik Filmstars outing, "The Purple Fez 72 Club Social" (a desperately overlooked album, which we would have had up for a Mercury at the very least) then you should find yourself fairly instantly tickled by it. Mixing Jarrett's deep-whispered vocals with brass and string-peppered guitars, it's a mid-paced sweep of ambition, a dusky take on hope and regret with short verses and a catchy enough chorus, but that opens out a couple of times into noisier guitar passages that trace rising chords not dissimilar to those of "The Only Mistake". The other songs on the EP can't match the lead tune's crossover potential, but shouldn't be dismissed: the fleeting "Event Arts '92" strikes its sombre chords with resonance, "The Middle Class Epidemic" is a dark, compelling, Short Stories-ish ballad of English manners (not surprising, given a guest appearance from the Short Stories' own ex-Beatnik, Tim Rippington) and "This Car Will Not Drive" is a finely-hewn, fairly harrowing piece of self-reflection that's aided by guest guitar from Secret Shine's Scott Purnell.

The associated full-length "Humour Me", even more than the EP, is a (deliberately) discomfiting blend of the mellow and bleak, but it oozes the richest texture and depth. The opening "Reputations" sets out Our Arthur's stall as it glides effortlessly within East River Pipe and Galaxie 500 territory (the latter, of course, being a constant reference point on the Beatniks' first album, "Maharishi"), before the absolutely gorgeous, drizzle-soaked ballad "The Company They Keep" opens out in front of the listener like a butterfly, and the tone is set.

 

The instrumentation at times seems so sparse as to be virtually imperceptible, a "less is more" trick learned no doubt in part from the success of some of Kyoko's stubbornly understated meanderings: in the context of the album, the attractive yet stillonly gently-smouldering "Strange About The Rain" sounds positively imposing, almost out-and-out pop. However, the willingness to demand concentration from the listener (Kyoko's sleeves used to say "play quiet", although the sleeve notes on "Humour Me" entreat a more reasonable "medium volume") contributes to the dynamics, with stunning effect on a song like "Clinging To The Records" in which a volcano of squalling guitar suddenly rises up from a previously becalmed songscape. The lyrics throughout, to take a phrase borrowed from a Mr Smith of Manchester, are cerebral (and) caustic.

Other highlights are provided by "Torn Anorak" (about the cruelty of the other boys at school: y'know, there are a few songs here which we could almost imagine Morrissey, of a certain vintage, having written!), the beautiful "The Southern 'R'" (which almost matches "The Company They Keep" for mournful pulchritude), and "Nasty Habit" which does the early to mid-period Beatnik Filmstars trick of being obviously a pearl of a song, despite valiant attempts to obscure its brilliance by making it as introspective, short and as lo-fi as possible.

The penultimate track, "The Tommy Cooper Affiliation Society" is another that stands out. With able assistance from the noble Rocker on Hammond *and* Vox, it's pacier and more percussive than much that preceded it, the keyboards and unabashed jauntiness making it sound in places like the breezier end of the Felt back catalogue. The closing "Good Conversations" is impressive in a very different way, a relatively restrained gem that comes alive thanks to a sweet clarinet part, but just as you're bedding down for a further few tear-jerking minutes it ends all too quickly and poignantly.

"Humour Me" is not an album that leaps from the speakers. Nor is it a record that can profitably be listened to while en route from A to B or otherwise buzzing distractedly around your daily business, given that much of the music and vocals are likely to be buried by the sound of your bus or train, or of the road alongside which your feet pound. Reserve yourself some special "me" time, curl up on your bed or sofa, turn the lights out and let this LP seep from your headphones: that's when it will really pay rewards. Sure, much of "Humour Me" is a downbeat little thing, but it's executed to perfection.

(In Love With These Times, In Spite Of These Times)

 

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1 Comment

Reply cinnamonskull
8:37 AM on November 9, 2012 
fantastic commentary on a fantastic album! makes me wish i could summon such words to offer in praise for Andrew's talent, but I'm content just listening nearly continuously and supporting such a worthy artist!

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