Thursday, 24 October 2013

album reviews: Talulah Gosh, The Spook School, Saint Max and the Fanatics

                                         Talulah Gosh – Was It Just a Dream?

Talulah Gosh - Was it Just a Dream? (****)

Superseding the increasingly hard-to-find Backwash compilation, Was It Just a Dream? is the complete Talulah Gosh: 29 tracks encompassing every EP, single, radio session and demo that the twee-pop icons committed to tape in their brief but influential mid-eighties existence. For died-in-the-wool fans already in possession of Backwash and the 2011 Demos EP, there’s nothing here you haven’t already spun to death; no new archival discoveries to hungrily digest, just a welding of the two into one package.

But for anyone too young or otherwise engaged to have enjoyed the band at the time, Was It Just a Dream? contains compound delights. Tracks like Bringing up Baby wear their quarter-of-a-century so well a newcomer might swear they’d been knocked together moments earlier by one of Amelia and co.’s numerous disciples, and it’s this long-term freshness that makes the album far more than a niche nostalgia hit for the Sarah/K Records appreciation societies.

Out 4th November

                                           The Spook School – Dress Up

The Spook School - Dress Up (***)

If quotes from the band weren’t on hand to guide you toward it, it’d be easy to miss indie-pop quartet The Spook School’s pronounced interest in issues of sexuality and self. Since they occupy a genre long associated with fluid gender identities (see, for instance, twee’s challenge to conventional notions of masculinity), great swathes of debut Dress Up’s lyrical content seems like standard reiterations of well-established themes: fears of fitting in, the messy bits of relationships etc. But songs like Are You Who You Think You Are? or History (“I was a boy or so it’s told”) offer a more considered take of the subjects at hand, supplying grist for a record that could otherwise have struggled to distinguish itself from others of its ilk. Not that The Spook School are as serious as all that sounds: joyously noisy, sometimes silly, and always fun, they’re a must-listen for the indietracks world and worth a swatch for everyone else.

Out now

                                         Saint Max and the Fanatics – Saint Max is Missing and the Fanatics are Dead

Saint Max and the Fanatics - ...Are Dead (***)

A little over a year since their inaugural gig, Saint Max and the Fanatics deliver their full-length debut – a celerity that screams confidence and an end product that just about justifies it. Incorporating starter pack influences from across British pop history – Madness’s bouncy rhythms; Kevin Rowland’s young soul rebel horns; The Libertines’ ramshackle mien; a singing voice part Morrissey, part Neil Hannon – the stitching shows but the patchwork is nonetheless effective, marking out 18-year-old frontman Max Syed-Tollan as a song-writing talent to watch.

Only occasionally are the echoes a little too on the nose, as on the Hawaii 5-0 brass of Afraid of Love or Conduit’s Molly’s Chambers-esque guitar line. But the lapses are forgivable when taken alongside such spritely gems as Soul Surrender’s convivial welcome or the vintage indie-pop of T-Shirt – neither likely to trigger full-on fanaticism just yet, but enough to keep it on the table for future.

Out now

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