Album Reviews

The Sharp Things – Foxes & Hounds

(Bar/None) UK release date: 11 July 2005

Guitar, bass and drums is all very well, but sometimes you find yourself yearning for a bit more than the standard skinny white boy indie music that’s so prevalent at the moment. If this is indeed the case, meet The Sharp Things, a 12 strong collective from New York City who embroider their songs with touches of violins, cellos, flugel horns and glockenspiels.

Although The Sharp Things hail from the United States, there’s a very English sensibility to their music. Names such as The Divine Comedy, Prefab Sprout and Pulp come to mind when listening to Foxes & Hounds – indeed, certain tracks seem as if Neil Hannon is on lead vocals, so close is lead singer Perry Serpa’s vocal similarity to the Irish dandy.

Whether you call it orchestral pop or chamber pop, its true that when you add string sections to some songs it has a tendency to become overblown, as anyone who’s heard the otherwise brilliant Rufus Wainwright‘s more unorthodox moments will testify to. Here though, the orchestration suits the songs beautifully. Take opening track, There Will Be Violins, which could almost be the band’s manifesto set to music (“put down your guitars, you have nothing to say through them anymore”).

Serpa’s lyrics are literate, witty and touching in equal measure. One minute he’s mentioning a “red-headed step child in flannel pyjamas”, the next he’s telling the short, sweet and sad tale of Letting Go, before pleading with a potential lover to take a chance on him in Spend The Night for the simple reason that “I’ve got a feeling about you”.

These Dreams Of You is another lyrical gem, a break up tale written in such an honest and funny way that you can’t help but smile. Serpa complains about his other half’s cats (“you say �they never bothered Matt’/he was the ex – he loved the cats”), her mother (“your mother doesn’t care for the length of my hair, but she ain’t the one wearing it”) and her sister (“she’s been living here since late last year…I guess she’s never going to take the hint”) before signing off with a cracking pay off line. It’s all set to a tune that you won’t be able to stop whistling for days.

Musically, the record covers all bases from the Bacharach/David clone of She Left With The Sun, the ’70s funk soundtrack of The Suicide Bombers and the wonderful chaotic Silver Anniversary, which ends up sounding like Bertolt Brecht transported to 21st Century Manhattan, ending as it does with a seemingly endless outro of “and we’re drinking and drinking and drinking…”.

There’s also the poignant, self-deprecating humour of I’ll Always Be Your Loser Honey, the creeping paranoia that there’s “something in the TV” in 95 St Marks Lane, and the soaring, gloriously romantic vision of the closing Love With The Perfect Stranger which all contribute to make Foxes & Hounds one of the best listens of the year.

The fact that the band are still struggling to find a UK distribution deal for the album sadly speaks more for the mindset of British record labels than it does about The Sharp Things. So get yourself online and order this now – you won’t regret it.

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The Sharp Things – Foxes & Hounds