Last year it was the S-1 Committee’s Ref. #: 13.841, and in 2007 I’ve been gifted another brilliant record from writing the Trans-Atlantic Underground column. Isabel at Sunset is a five-piece band from Parma who sonically display quite a lot of nineties Brit-pop and US indie rock with several of the quintet’s acknowledged lo-fi influences bobbing around the surface.
The wonderful thing about Isabel at Sunset is their ability to make very clever music, which is ultimately fairly happy. They can sound by turns poignant, euphoric, solemn and melancholy, but writ large lays an astute and generally positive outlook on the world, and some excellent songs. The reference points might be slightly different, but it’s comparable to the kind of thing the Arctic Monkeys did really well on Favourite Worst Nightmare, the down to earth observation that made the aforementioned S-1 record so great, and the way Caribou can mess with your head and make you dance to flying golf balls with faces at his live show. That’s not to discount anything else on different points the spectrum, but to emphasise why Meet the Gang is so special.
There is no shortage of killer songs here. “Hey Dude” could be a cut from Crooked Rain Crooked Rain with the more knowing lyrical vibe of Malkmus solo set Pig Lib. Isabel’s Italian-English throws up moments of blinding lyrical genius throughout. Try “hey Chris, you’re such a jellyfish.” “The Coming Back Guy” has Morrissey-scoped wit for normals in it’s recollection of youth. Out of nowhere comes “we discriminated against metal girls,” and singer Alain lambastes “the boy who destroyed with no joy” against guitar worthy of The Bends. “Kevin Keyboards and the Wannabe Indie Stars” says an unreal amount about a large number of blokes who waste time on webzines. It tells the tale of a “confused and slightly contradictory figure” and his borderline ridiculous artistic struggle. I’m somewhere between laughing and crying.
The subdued moments still triumph. “Parasites” may directly reference Sparklehorse’s “Weird Sisters,” but it ends as a (What’s the Story) Morning Glory style bombastic anthem. “Just Me and the Mirror” parallels Wayne Coyne’s illustrations on The Soft Bulletin, and makes sparseness evocative. Mostly Meet the Gang pulls all the dross and exuberance together into a palatable context. The title track would noticeably outshine any new-indie anthems on the radio. Its guitars are somewhere between formative Marion and Weezer, and the lyrics are light-hearted but tellingly intelligent. Half way through someone sings “we need some fucking extra time” and I’m nodding and smiling. “Waiting for the Dinos” would have felt right at home on the Knebworth bill. It’s stadium Brit-pop with Al Stewart’s enunciation and storytelling flare. A line which I previously thought referenced “a life of spam” actually talks of “a life that sped me to my death and to my wrist.” Same effect, with added points for wordplay.
Isabel at Sunset hasn’t made a conscious artistic statement, but there’s enough here to win the worthwhile arguments hands down. This is probably the most charming, enjoyable piece of plastic that I’ll hear all year. With both eyes open, Meet the Gang still makes me really happy to be alive.
Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin
The Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare