Here’s an embarrassing admission; I’ve absolutely balled at movies before. Done it on dates, even. Hasn’t happened in a few years, but, oh my god, Alexander Payne’s contribution to the short films collection Paris, J’taime is absolutely heartbreaking. In most of his films (Election, About Schmidt), he manages to take an absolutely unpatronizing look at an average midwestern life, filling it with all the attention to detail to make it both excrutiatingly difficult to watch and impossible to turn away from. Well, if the below scene doesn’t do anything for you, then obviously we don’t have similar taste in movies. You can watch it here.
So Too Pure Records, which coughed and muttered and then introduced the world to wonders like McLusky, Stereolab (who I think might’ve actually owned the label? Maybe?) and PJ Harvey recently gave up and died. The British label always kind of lurked in the background indie record labels, quietly putting out reliably good to great releases from bands and artists not quite big enough to make it to an NME feature (but honestly, does getting a feature in NME really mean anything anymore?), but certainly big enough to get that opening slot on a more successful British band’s US tour. I’m going to focus on two Too Pure bands that got glued down in the shadow of other British acts, and never made it half as big as they should have. Ladies and Gentlemen, because you missed them the first time around, please let me reintroduce Th’ Faith Healers and Hefner.
I first got into Hefner because the stupid little sticker on our school radio station’s copy of I Love The City whispered “You know Beulah are never gonna release another album. Well these guys are the British Beulah!” Wrong Wrong Wrong. Like all mid 90’s British rock acts that weren’t 1) Radiohead, 2) ambient drone rock or 3) Secretly a Big Beat techno band, Hefner sound Britpop; more specifically, they sound a lot like Pulp. Man, I hate starting off a description of a band with a comparison to another band, but here it is the elephant storming around the room, so better to admit its presence and then try to chain it up, than to think of a thousand ways to paint the walls gray so it’ll blend in better. Or something. Similarities: both Pulp and Hefner are musically adept rock bands who favored wit and the occasional upbeat number to angst and guitar solos. Both bands had charismatic frontmen; both released brilliant self conscious albums responding to any level of success and fizzled away minus the drama of far too many band endings. Both could never be counted on to write a straightforward love song.
Except that Jarvis Cocker (frontman of Pulp) is the eternally wise, bitter, narcissist, who damned everything to hell from day he first saw earth, but knows you’ll sleep with him anyway, and he’ll do it too, even if it won’t mean anything on his end. Hefner frontman Darren Hayman is excited and a little less sure. He’ll probably still get the girl in the end, but you know he’ll have to work for it. After it ends, he’ll write an album that’s half blaming himself for the fight the morning after and half thinking of whether he has a chance with the girl’s more attractive, younger sister. His songs don’t feel like afterthoughts the way Cocker’s often do; they feel like a narrative of a life being lived. Sometimes there are lyrical turns in Hefner’s songs that make you think something happened in between Tuesday when Hayman got the chorus down and Friday when he worked out the piano part and told it to his bandmates.
If Hefner are meticulous and nervous, Th’ Faith Healers are ambiguous, sloppy and spitting everywhere: food, water, unsmoked tobacco. Here’s the starting line for this band: The Pixies when Kim Deal is singing. Just know that by the time you get to the finish, that starting point will seem laughably simplistic and misshapen. The whole rationale is different. The Pixies wrote songs because the stories they were telling sounded better with music. Th Faith Healers wrote lyrics because singer Roxanne Stephen’s vocals were the only tape strong enough to hold the rest of this eternally grinding rusting machine together. The band sounds as noisy as a car assembly plant, and any message beyond the pure sublimity of THAT MUCH NOISE is pretty much entirely obscured (see: all the gaps in the band’s only attempt at a lyrics page). They got labeled a later-day kraut rock band because they covered Can (although you’d never know it from hearing the cover), and because sometimes their songs went on for 10 minutes, sometimes for 35 minutes. I don’t buy it; here it seems they just kept playing because they were having fun, and why stop? Because i’m terrified of giving you all Tinnitus, here are two tracks from the band’s second and final full length, Imaginary Friend, which will give you a little bit of breathing room. If anyone wants to hear a few tracks from their louder than loud first (out of print) album Lido, e-mail me and i’ll post ’em.
2 new thermals songs up at their myspace. Sound good to me. Get ready for pitchfork to dismiss ’em them though. (i’m thinking a boring ol’ reluctantly negative review topped with a “generous” 7.something because of their past releases.) And if you’re ready to laugh (and who isn’t nowadays?) read their posts about their galactic encounter and disencounter with their most recent drummer.
(oh, and this is my 50th post. so thanks for reading, and maybe at 75 or 100 we’ll have a big old party)