self released 2011, CD album, 30m 47s
due for release in 2011
I’ll call these pop songs, largely because they’re not rock songs, or folk songs, or Balinese wedding songs, but that doesn’t really cover it. These are literate, witty, intelligent and playful songs, and they are pop songs in the same way that Art Spiegelman’s Maus (to pick an utterly inappropriate example at lazy random) is a comic book, or Zaha Hadid’s Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion is a building: because they are, but not because they conform to any of the prejudices you may harbour regarding that extraordinarily broad church. And this is not to say that the music on All The Rave is bizarre or intellectual: if it were I’d be bandying terms like ‘experimental’ and ‘avant-garde’; but this music is sufficiently individual that it needs to be described on its own terms (or, preferably, heard).
Rhythm section feels and stylistic features are drawn from guitar-pop, swing, country, folk and other places, but without resorting to fusion or contrivance. One or both of the twins responsible for this album is an accomplished guitarist, in a restrained way, and their arrangements are the height of pop sophistication (by which I do not mean they are complicated, or over-produced), constructed with wit and a light touch.
Tall Poppies’ singing displays a variety of expressive devices, delivered with humour and aplomb, and tends toward the melodramatic. There are brief moments when the voices display a raw physicality, or a smooth ethereality, but for the most part they evince a knowing, overcoded precision of diction that establishes an ironic distance from their subjects, but an intimacy with the audience with whom they share their arched-eyebrow perspective. The delivery is always determined by the lyrical content, in a way that is unafraid of seeming stagey, and frequently becomes exaggerated and mannered, as in ‘Goodnight Catherine’. It’s unclear whether the songs would stand up well without the characterful performance, or whether the performance style would work with a less bespoke sort of material, but the question doesn’t arise.
The songs on All The Rave have a sensibility that is ironically humorous, that embraces the bizarre, that loves language (and plays with it), but seems nevertheless to be informed by a genuine affection for the subjects on which it allows its gaze to play. It is an observational perspective, if only because the mediated nature of its utterances precludes any sense of autobiography (and irrespective of whether autobiographical materials have been used to construct the songs). The vocal phrasing manipulates and stretches time, putting rhythmic stresses just so, to add semantic emphasis, and yet (to resurrect the terminology of the 1930s) it is always more sweet than swing: rhythmic abandon, the bodily pleasure of music, is always immanent, but it is described, and never enacted.
This music is all about fun of course, but it’s not that sort of fun. It’s the fun of laughing; of playing; of standing apart from the things and people you love, the better to know them, and perhaps, the better to love them. It is the pleasure of a detached, but highly aware reading of the world, and in a world as textual as our own, that’s as engaged and as visceral as anything ever is. Tall Poppies’ view of the world is an intelligent, engaging and entertaining one, artfully expressed, and well worth sharing in.