On the Rough Trade/Tugboat website, there’s an announcement about two debut albums being released on 14th November. One is Summer Storm by Pellumair, but unfortunately for them, their work will be somewhat overshadowed by the news that the other album being released is by Babyshambles. The odd thing is that if you’d have placed a bet on which band would split up days before their debut hits the shops, the smart money would have been on Pete Doherty’s band. Yet poor old Pellumair, with a sense of timing that would shame Judas have called it a day.
Babyshambles are a quintessentially English sounding band, who paint pictures of Merry Olde Albion by rolling around drunk in the gutter with The Clash and The Kinks for company. Pellumair’s sound is equally as English but for completely different reasons. Taking the ghost of Nick Drake and letting it loose within Ride‘s guitar pedals, they’re the sound of Burt Jansch playing guitar with the Boo Radleys. Folksy melodies dissolve into the ether of overloaded guitars. Gentle acoustic strums are frozen out in a blizzard of white noise.
The opening track, Side For This, is a distillation of the band sound with the high vocals backed by only a set of acoustic chords. Then an overlaid distorting guitar arrives in tandem with a second vocal and the guitars trade off the riff, vocals combining and then swapping. The coda returns to opening vocal and chords with the song lapsing back into silence. The tracks are spun out to form fragile webs. The interplay between acoustic and electric guitars forms the bedrock of their sound. There are no drums and no bass playing on any of the songs. The sense of rhythm is derived from the clash of textures and the odd splash of percussion.
Lucy starts just as gently. It is like the mist rising from the Serpentine on a early summer morning. A second guitar fleshes a softly picked melody. Suddenly, a thumping set of amplified piano chords arrives. They crash through the song’s blissful reverie like sand in Vaseline, like salt in ice-cream. Silk As Her Era boasts a wonderful chiming guitar riff. It’s like the House of Love at their best – pure crystal. The light of reflected melodies rippling out across the song.
However, neither Jaymie Caplen or Tom Stanton’s vocals carry any sort of conviction and in truth they both struggle to carry the lyrics. There is no warmth or grain in either. They are so fragile that they make Neil Young sound like Tom Jones.
When they leave their voices unadorned and without effects the can sound incredibly fey and bland. Postcards sounds like watching beige paint dry on a wet bank holiday weekend. The attempt at a Velvet Underground styled drone rock that closes the track lacks the ferocity to succeed. They cite the mighty Galaxy 500 as an influence but it takes more than aping Dean Wareham’s guitar sound to scale those heights.
It’s a shame that they have a tendency to fall back into the folkier elements of their sound, as when they get the balance of effects, melody and pace right they start to fly. The closing Retirement Gold is wonderful with the vocals blending perfectly and the guitars bending, buckling and morphing. The sparkling refrain that opens the song gets burnt and broken. It’s the perfect way to close a record and wets the appetite for more. Of course, the problem is that there won’t be a second record. A mildly diverting curio but nothing more than that.