I picked up Grand Drive's True Love and High Adventure album last week, partly on the recommendation of Everett True, who is quoted on the cover sticker as saying that 'If there's any justice at all in pop, Grand Drive's second album will be a shoo-in for the Mercury Music Prize'., and partly because I'd heard bits of their first album in various places and found it really kind of pleasant. Sad to say then that I don't see True Love being a record getting much play around these parts. Ask me why not exactly, though, and I'll be struggling to answer. See, I have this problem with groups like Elbow, Cosmic Rough Riders and now Grand Drive, because there's clearly a lot about them that I probably ought to love, and yet I end up, if not hating them, at least not wanting to hear them again, thank you very much. I suspect it may be because they either sound too earnest and serious (Elbow), have too much of an archaic 'rock' attitude (Cosmic Rough Riders) or are, lets face it here, too darned 'produced' (Grand Drive, at least on this album's evidence). And try as I might I can't shake the feeling that Grand Drive are about to turn into Del Amitri, back from when they returned after many years in the wilderness, determined to be Neil Young instead of the Feelies. Which clearly isn't all that great a prospect.
A much finer prospect are Beachwood Sparks, whose Once We Were Trees album on Sub Pop / Rough Trade is a fantastic slow-core-psychedelic-country-rock tour-de-force. Conjuring the ghosts of the International Submarine Band, Big Star, Rain Parade and a host of others, Beachwood Sparks have made an album that reeks of tradition, history and reverence, whilst at the same time sounding fresh and challenging. Like on 'Let It Run', where Beachwood Sparks are floating up way above the cathedrals, us just catching glimpses of them through stained glass windows in the sky. And in fact the Felt of Poem Of The River might not be a bad reference point, because like Felt at their finest, Beachwood Sparks conjure an atmosphere of pasts lost and immersed in, brought out into the light, reflecting the sun just so. Or 'the Hustler' which has vocals right out of the Alex Chilton circa Sister Lovers school, drifting like feathers in the desert. And then there's the album's title track closer, all psych swirls, rhinestone paisley patterns; a cosmic American music like looking at the world from Cap Rock through David Roback's 'Kaleidoscope', the track dissolving into itself with great swathes of electric noise like something from a Dinosaur Jr record, and in fact J Mascis gets a name check on the sleeve, so maybe that explains it.
On a tangential tack, Pittsburgh's satanstompingcaterpillars have made a record in The Autumn Kaleidoscope Got Changed that is also tinged with psychedelic washes, although much more stripped back, being just acoustic guitar, cheap casio organ and tin-can vocals. Essentially a solo effort by Tom Fec (cousin Ken Fec and few other friends join him for live performances), this is remarkable lo-fi simplicity that reminds me of the glorious landscapes of Roy Montgomery, or Orange Cake Mix's Jim Rao at his instrumentally most forlorn. It's the oscillating sound of fall leaves drifting onto the electric third rail; the spinning of the sky through powerlines above the playground roundabout; the noise of hard drives making snow angels in the dead of night.
Jetting away from the USA down to Australia now for a split single released as a joint venture between the very fine Steady Cam records (home to singles by the Madder Rose-esque delights of Twelve24 and perennial Dutch faves Bettie Serveert, amongst others) and Traffic Sounds. The single features the magnificently glacial rock of Deloris, whose 'the point in the war where we knew we were lost' is a tugging four minutes of the kind of profound, abandoned to the night aches Red House Painters made circa the first of their eponymous albums. With moments as well-formed as this and their debut album The Pointless Gift (Quietly Suburban records) already a firm favourite round these parts, I await the future developments of Deloris with baited breath.
Sharing the limited to 300 copies single with Deloris are fellow Melbourne band Braving The Seabed who if anything sound even better, with their somnambulist Tortoise-like groove and dream vocals sounding just like their name suggests; an undersea exploration of hidden treasures, dark and mysterious, textural and mythic that makes me desperate to hear their eponymous debut album on the Real Amber label.
On this evidence, and considering also the sounds made recently by the excellent Art of Fighting, Sodastream and of course the astonishingly wonderful Augie March, it would seem Australia is a treasure trove of sonic delights, just waiting for all of us here on the other side of the globe to unearth.
© Alistair Fitchett 2001