These Things Matter
Russian Futurists, Butterflies of Love and Chickfactor

Ten songs and a total running time of around a half hour. Once upon a time all great albums were made this way.

Listen to the first five Byrds albums, or those '60s Beach Boys albums like Shut Down Vol 2, Surfer Girl or All Summer Long if you need examples. Albums filled with killer tunes that never outstay their welcome. Matthew Adam Hart, the one man band that is the wonderfully titled The Russian Futurists knows how to make just such great albums.

He showed it with last years ace The Method of Modern Love, and he's proved it once again with Let's Get Ready To Crumble, an album stuffed to the brim with witty hooks and smart lyrics.

Sonically, there's more than a hint of Beach Boys brilliance in the songs, and thank goodness for that, because what I most need these days is tunes to make the world seem brighter; songs I can hum in my head, illuminating my soul whilst the grey clouds gather. Let's Get Ready To Crumble fits the bill perfectly.

Lyrically, as well as musically, it recalls no less a wonder than Stephin Merritt, with wonderfully sharp observations that come across as treasures of super-smart-dumb Pop poetics. Of course others have made a connection between Matthew and Stephin before me, and that's just fine and fitting because it's so apt, and in fact listening to Let's get Ready To Crumble reminds me of how I felt when I first heard Magnetic Fields' Get Lost. I want to play it eternally, or at least on constant repeat for a week, which is, let's face it, probably as much of a lifetime as anyone would want to contemplate at any one moment.

There's a nod too to They Might Be Giants, especially on 'Precious Metals', which some might find off-putting. But let's remember that those two Johns have been responsible for some mighty quirky infectious records over the past decade and a half, and even their theme tunes for crappy TV shows are pretty marvellous snaps of crackly Pop.

So, ten songs and a total running time of around a half hour. One day, all great albums will be made this way.

Butterflies of Love know how to make great albums too, although on The New Patient they've gone for the equally acceptable and pleasingly symmetrical twelve tracks. Symmetrical because hey, I still think in terms of vinyl even if no-one else does, and I remember Lawrence saying that he was annoyed with Ignite the Seven Cannons because it was the only asymmetrical Felt album. These things matter.

The New Patient matters too. It's a glorious album that slowly drips into your psyche with songs that drift into your heart and set up camp for days. It's been my breakfast music this past week, setting me up for the school days ahead, and let me tell you that not many records ever claim that prize. The New Patient is another of those minor masterpieces of minor chords and restrained melancholia. Not the big Look At Me, Aren't I A Sensitive and Suffering Artist type of global shit that a million other groups make, but the softer, more personal reflections that are all the more real as a result. Butterflies of Love make the same kind of personal connections, make similar kinds of marvellously engaging sounds as East Village or the Butterflies' UK based contemporaries The Windmills. With a pair of fine singer-songwriters in Daniel and Jeffrey Greene, Butterflies of Love also nod to the dynamic duo of Forster and McLennan, although it's more the odd wayward Pop edge of Forster that comes over in both writers' songs. Too many groups seem these days to be saying that they're 'influenced by the Go-Betweens' and then finding themselves in the position of simply being unable to match the statement to the sounds they make. Butterflies of Love sensibly don't make such statements, but they do make a sound that allows people like me to feel secure in making the connection. They really are that good. They really do make me feel that fine.

Making me feel similarly fine is the sublime Chickfactor compilation. Chickfactor ought not to need any introduction or explanation, but for the record, and to quote the CD sleeve; 'Chickfactor was started by Gail [O'Hara, photographer extraordinaire] and Pam [Berry, ex Black Tambourine, Shapiros, Glo-Worm and a host of other essential bands] in the summer of '92. The magazine is in love with pop music.' What more do you need to know? How about the fact that the artists who've given their support to this ten year anniversary compilation includes the likes of The Magnetic Fields, Clientele, Stuart Moxham, Aislers Set, Flare, The Cannanes, Low, Marine Research and a host of equally magnificent others. People who know the score know that Chickfactor matters. Stevie Jackson of the one-time God-like Belle and Sebastian certainly knows that Chickfactor matters, so much so that he wrote a song about it for the last truly great B&S album The Boy With The Arab Strap. He also writes sleeve notes for this CD, noting that 'what does matter is the continuous unravelling mass of informative sharing of experience.' And if you ask me, that's key to the purpose of great Pop and hey, great Art in general, which is of course why Chickfactor works so well as a magazine, as an attitude, even, if you insist on such things, a 'scene'. Personally I've never been bothered about 'scenes' much, but if you're going to have a unifying element that brings broadly like minded souls together, then Chickfactor is an element better than most. And as compilation albums go, then All's Fair in Love and Chickfactor is similarly head and shoulders above most all else. If you're as in love with Pop as Gail and Pam, then you owe it to yourself to get your hands on a copy pronto.

© 2002 Alistair Fitchett