The S-1 Committee first contacted me earlier in the year for my Trans Atlantic Underground column, and this Denton, Texas four-piece made my head turn with a demo that somehow hit on all that is good, rather than pretentious, about DIY indie. There’s a chilled-out excellence in those recordings that exuded likeability. Jeff Lewis, High Llamas, the quieter side of the Pixies, and Johnny Marr thrown in a blender, matter of factly emerging as something special.
This is the kind of brilliant, non-specific record that oozed out of the woodwork 1982-96, and seems to be in the ascendancy once again. It sits as a worthy inheritor to the earth once bounced upon by Beat Happening, The Vaselines, the High Llamas and early Pulp. It’s also an esteemed peer of recent releases by Semifinalists, Smokers Die Younger, Tapes’ N Tapes, and the Arcade Fire. There’s a sense that these blokes are having fun with their art, and that the poignancy that results is entirely reflective rather than contrived.
Musically, there are reference points. If there is a hallmark of Ref. #: 13.841, it’s the sound of vacuum-covered keyboard pop with something rather welcoming tinkling above. At times it seems like the songs are going to disappear into a black hole, and you’ll wake up the other side of Kansas, a tin man banging out Belle and Sebastian beats on his head to welcome you. And well, lyrically, not that much happens, in the same way that not much happens in George Washington, or (Sci-fi aside) Red Dwarf. Regular stuff, girls, sub-lame socials, trip references…somehow Mike Munywoki says a lot that makes sense about life as we know it, and the S-1 Committee make a happy racket that compliments adeptly.
So, fairly explicably “Dreaming of Life (Do They want to Die)” marks a world “like a picture show,” comparable to “a filibuster,” against a Peter Hook Surf background. “Parties (Ripped Off/Stood Up)”, adds a synthetic waltz to the rootsy strums of I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, asking “how much longer do we have to act” with more sarcasm than angst. “Black Snow,” polished in this form, could be XTC falling into a black hole. Its synth is surely made for a world where Atari make the best products again. “Orange and White” makes joy with a Kim Deal bass line and the shambolic nonsense victory of Smokers Die Younger. “Five Star Grave (Suicide for the Upper Class)” is worthy of Hawaii in the rickshaw pop stakes, and Jeff Lewis in its self-comical satire. “Circles and Dots” has a fantastic Buggles via Television Personalities guitar over keyboard beat race going on. “Jenny’s In Black” is orchestral pop taking in Sean O’Hagan and the Samurai Seven on the road to fifties classicism. The album’s mantra, “give them a minute and they will say hello” (inscribed on the disc, no less), emerges in the best context: romantic tragedy verging on the ridiculous.
“Went to the Drawing Board” could be the glacial lo-fi foil to Feeder’s early UK pop hits. There’s a telling reminder for all of us: “the clock is knocking, seconds away while we’re busy just hanging around.” Uncharacteristically, “A Question” has the pull of the Reid brothers’ bleakest, lyrically, celebrating “life in a plastic box.” The defining moment of this album comes with its neighbour, “Drive to Heaven.” Against a symphonic concoction of early Belle and Sebastian and Hit to Death era Flaming Lips, we find that “heaven is like Branson, but with better shows,” accessible with “the bible as a book on tape.” A journey ending bemoaning the unfairness of it all—”there’s no-one there.” This is a stunning effort. In 2225 my record collection will seem far cooler to my children’s less disinteresting friends (my kids will hate music), for owning this. You should too.
The High Llamas – Hawaii
Smokers Die Younger – X Wants the Meat
Semifinalists – Semifinalists