Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Out Of Sight, Out Of Town: A Review Of The New Album From Standard Fare

Man, I haven't liked something this much since that debut album from Pull In Emergency.

(Though it's worth noting here that this trio from Sheffield has already smoothed their rough edges in ways that that London group hadn't back in 2010.)

Out Of Sight, Out Of Town, out now on Melodic, features 12 carefully crafted indie rockers that veer between youthful exuberance and more mature moments of introspection (see the lovely "Darth Vader").

There's so much energy here that one can't help but be happy when playing this record. I mean, it's the sort of thing that reassures even the most jaded rock snob -- ahem! -- that there's still life in the old beast yet.

The slow-burner "Look For Lust" opens the album in fine fashion.

(I found myself replaying this collection sometimes out of sequence so my review follows that pattern.)

The rush of "05 11 07" charms with Danny How's vocal harmonies matching Emma Cooper's lead ones. There's a trumpet here too that adds something else to this cut. For some weird reason, the song reminded me of fellow Sheffield band Pulp.

Mind you, it sounds nothing like that band; with guitar and drums (Andy Beswick is ferocious at times) roaring up and slowing down, the lyrical concerns here and the way they were expressed reminded me of Jarvis in some way. He can sing with an air of above-it-all detachment or outright emotion and Emma does that too on this record. It's a unique talent.

Familiar single "Suitcase" -- an earlier fave of mine -- is here too and things only get better as the album goes along.

It's the ghost of C86 on "Dead Future" with those "ba ba ba ba" vocal bits. The guitar slows down for some Vini Reilly-esque lines and then things rev up again. Danny and Emma share lead vocal duties on this cut that recalls The Primitives (that early stuff).

The shared vocals and ending thrash-and-bang of "Call Me Up" recall bands as varied as Yatsura and Shop Assistants but the sound here is so assured, so forceful, that one stops trying to pin references on the track as it races by you.

"Darth Vader" is really stunning. Where single "Suitcase" was strumming catchiness about a serious subject, "Darth Vader" uses a silly pop culture figure for the title of what is a touching relationship song. The track unfurls with Johnny Marr-like figures on the guitar. Emma's vocals are gentle and imploring and the drumming from Andy grounds things.

It's the sort of push-and-pull dynamic that I liked about The Delgados. It's not quite as dark as their best stuff was, but that's okay. It's shimmering and bright even if a bit forlorn.

The child of The Sundays and The Delgados: how could I not love this band?

Play "Suitcase" and "Darth Vader" back-to-back and you'll see why I'm so excited about Standard Fare.

"Kicking Puddles" reveals the influence of The Wedding Present even if the track features a few moments of shoegaze-ready guitar roar. The call-and-response vocals work here and the song revs up and slows down to achieve its effect.

"Bad Temper" shoves a lot of guitar noise into a tightly constructed gem that sounds like the first generation of bands who picked up guitars after hearing those early Buzzcocks records.

The marvelous "Older Women" highlights the wit of Standard Fare. Slightly cynical, the lead vocals from Sarah alternate between sarcasm and a certain kind of poignancy. Really, there are very few people who can sing like this -- maybe Chrissie Hynde -- and Emma Cooper may be one of them too.

The cut hurries along like an early Arctic Monkeys track but those vocals are just sublime. There's the sound of youthful optimism being crushed by mature awareness here that adds something touching to the tune. It's a lovely track and it highlights the things I already love about Standard Fare.

"Older Women" is the track that shows how the guys and gal in Standard Fare are moving things forward. There are loads of bands with similar influences, but on a song like this you can hear something new being done with that C86 template.

"Half Sister" charms with Emma's yearning and heartfelt vocals, while "Early That Night" is languid and warm, the sound of The Sundays without all those guitar effects to get in the way of the emotions on display. It's another shining moment on Out Of Sight, Out Of Town. With the instruments betraying a hint of "Reel Around The Fountain" from The Smiths, Emma sings the direct lyrics. Vulnerable and heartfelt, "Early That Night" is another example of this band's strengths in creating memorable and touching indie rock.

"Crystal Palatial" has a touch of Britpop to it but Emma's vocals make it so much more.

It's not just catchy Brit-made guitar-based jangle-pop on this album!

Standard Fare deserve to be as big as the Arctic Monkeys.

And not just because they are also from Sheffield.

(Do they have a special lab for guitar bands hidden away there?)

No, it's that mix of youthful exuberance and the beginnings of mature self-awareness that so charms.

There's something here that I've not heard before.

And, just like with those Monkeys, it's the mix of familiar influences into something fresh that I so much enjoy here.

Out Of Sight, Out Of Town (2012) is out now on Melodic.

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