Album Reviews

The Afternoons – Sweet Action

(Saturday Records) UK release date: 10 March 2008

Between their five members, The Afternoons list Catcher In The Rye (Pete Morgan, drums, korg, harmonica), The Viz Annual (Andrew Walters, violin) and The Last Tycoon (Richard Griffiths, vocals, guitar) amongst their favourite books. The combination isn’t a bad translation of their musical talents.

Populist, studious but perfectly able to have fun, their sound is familiar enough to be accessible to everyone, multi-layered enough to promise so much more. They’re a voyage of discovery back to a more innocent time, before music cared so much about saving the world or showing how clever it can be.

And yet, thought Sweet Action is The Afternoons’ fourth studio album, a decade after they started out they’re still barely unknown in their native UK. Big in Japan, the US and Spain, but virtually unheard of here, they’re feel-good summer pop just waiting to be discovered, another Camera Obscura for the indie fraternity to pointlessly keep to itself.

Formed in 1999 – a little bit too late for Britpop, maybe, and certainly too late for the poppier end of the Bristol trip-hop scene – they share a common sound with bands such as St Etienne, Teenage Fanclub and Leisure-era Blur, not to mention the equally woefully under-rated Day One: namely, happy-go-lucky hazy pop that’s out to have a great time.

Tap your foot along to the first four tracks, then head to the dance floor as Touch and Go speeds things up, before the space rock harmonies of The Silver Age bring the sound bang up to date as repeating tape loops and displaced samples disrupt the disposable sing-alongs of the previous tracks. It’s a great trick that prevents you from getting too comfortable with the easier-listening moments.

Two-and-a-half minutes later you may well find yourself back in The Feeling‘s territory, but at least now you won’t take it for granted. This is a band that never quite puts its proud-to-be-pop sensibilities to one side, though, even when adding a string quartet and/or saxophone to their the usual guitars, drums and retro-keyboards.

The delicate minor chords of The Ghosts Of Autumn fade into background piano harmonies to prove they can be sensitive too, as does their other seasonal paean Winter Is Dead. They go radio-friendly unit shifter with recent single Don’t Look Back and you can sing along to Where The Arrow Falls'”Do do do, do do do’s” for as long as you like.

The last twelve months has seen something of a renaissance for swoony pop that’s not afraid to stand up for itself and any of this attention that can be deflected The Afternoon’s way would be much appreciated. Wholesome, polite, clever and sweet, it’s everything pop should be, with the anomalous Silver Age a tiny blip that winks its eye at you just when you thought you’d heard most of what they have to offer before. Why exactly are we keeping them so quiet?

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