Brilliant Colours teeter on the edge of the indie landfill.
Knowing where homage ends and derivative starts is the responsibility of the band – in this case it would be very generous to give them the benefit of the definition. Perhaps the indie boom of the late eighties – Stone Roses, Lush, Elastica, Kenickie etc., never made it as far as far as San Francisco, and as a font of inspiration it is pure and virginal there. Nevertheless, on this side of the Atlantic it has been well-dredged, and two decades of landfill indie later, the sound is beginning to wear a bit thin. Brilliant Colours do themselves no favours by bringing precisely nothing new to the genre. Beyond a talent for melody, there really is nothing to see here, move along.
It has the fey, heroin-chic vocal nonchalance of Nico, but without her purity of tone or husky allure
It is an oft-cited justification for content-piracy that what's available from the big labels is so cynical and lazy that it's not worth paying for. This record is an example of the same syndrome via a small label – it really proves that levelling the field and removing the gatekeepers of the music industry has not been altogether utopian. By rights, this album should have been made as a demo, which would have made it no further than the desk of an a&r's personal assistant. Instead, it has been recorded and mixed, presumably at the expense of the band, and to the benefit of the new sector of the music industry which provides the latest incarnation of vanity publishing. Released on CD and vinyl, it won't have come cheap, whoever is paying.
What exactly this record has to offer above and beyond the records that 'inspired' it is difficult to ascertain. It has the fey, heroin-chic vocal nonchalance of Nico, but without her purity of tone or husky allure. It has some of the jaded girlishness of Kristen Hersh, but with none of the knowing sophistication. In that respect, it's more Echobelly than Belly. Where the indie frontwomen of the 1980s affected a languid drawl to their delivery, it was more of a nod to the opiate intake of their heroes – Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, Sonic Youth, even the Velvet Underground. Singer/Guitarist Jess somehow manages to read 'elegantly wasted drawl' to mean 'off-key and hopelessly flat'.
The chorus/reverb laden guitar is tweaked up to sound like Johnny Marr, which is predictable. Jess is in illustrious company – every indie band of the 80s from The Wedding Present to Lush had a guitarist who wanted to sound a bit like Johnny Marr. Most of them failed as miserably as Jess does. The 80s indie guitar approach was partly based upon an urge to recreate the Phil Spector-produced wall-of-sound, but suffered from the fact that where Spector might have used fifteen guitars and one reverb pedal, indie guitarists usually used one guitar and fifteen reverb pedals. On 'Value Lines' and 'Telephone Stories' the balance between voice and guitar is right, but the jarring harshness of the guitars on the rest of the album is an acquired taste.
It's an unforgiving combination – chorus/reverb. Because the notes continue to ring after the chord has changed, it can produce unexpected discords as the next note is played. Most guitars end up sounding out of tune unless they are played by a master of the technique, and Jess is certainly not that. Her playing sounds amateur and hesitant, the intros to 'Round Your Way' and 'L.A.s' use the volume fade-in technique most celebrated in The Smiths' 'Some Girls are Bigger than Others', but without any of the intricacy of that earlier work.
suffered from the fact that where Spector might have used fifteen guitars and one reverb pedal, indie guitarists usually used one guitar and fifteen reverb pedals.
Throughout, the guitar sound is as cloyingly smug in its twee recreation of a musical period as the rest of the record. At least The Divine Comedy's equally smug recent homage to the playlist of the indie disco was honest in its vampirism, as are the hundreds of tribute bands playing sticky-carpet clubs on any given Saturday night. There is something horribly out-of-tune about the guitar on this album. With no smutty innuendo intended – Jess sounds like her g-string is a bit loose. Perhaps it is deliberately discordant, such ploys sometimes bring an edge of studied nonchalance to a record. In this case though, it clashes too openly with the already off-key vocals. As in photography – blur is acceptable, but there must always be at least one point of focus.
The rhythm section has a bit of life to it, without going as far as to have any remarkable talent either. Basslines trot along jauntily, infusing a bit of movement into the songs that would have otherwise have gotten lost in all the wet guitar meanderings, and the drums make up what they lack in timekeeping with dogged energy – all tom-rolls and cymbal crashes blasted out at a pace that is designed to compensate for the desultory approach of the upper-mid range of the band's sound frequencies. Sonically, the album is mixed with the same skagged-out sardonic aloofness as the playing. It is so distant and airy that it almost disappears. It's all decidedly ordinary stuff – perhaps worthy of a Smash Hits feature in a slow week in February '88, it may even have menaced the top thirty had it been released then. Now, with two-thousand or more albums released every week, it belongs in the 'yeah, whatever' pile.
Brilliant Colours – Again and Again out 19th July on Slumberland Records
Sean Keenan used to write. Now he edits, and gets very annoyed about the word ‘ethereal’. Likely to bite anyone using the form ‘I’m loving….’. Don’t start him on the misuse of three-dot ellipses.
Divides his time between mid-Spain and South-West France, like one of those bucktoothed, fur-clad minor-aristocracy ogresses you see in Hello magazine, only without the naff chandeliers.