In the UK, Fortuna POP! has the reputation as being the label for the best indie pop and with their very, very, very impressive backcatalogue, there’s no way to deny that. It remains to be seen if anyone will be able to fill the gap they leave by calling it quits. Overseas, Slumberland Records occupies the same position, so it’s not surprising that the two labels have teamed up for Continental Drift. The EP features four bands, two of which are from the US (The Mercury Girls and Wildhoney), and two from the UK (The Tigercats and The Spook School). Each of the two ‘sides’ of the EP features one song by each artist, but for ease of reading I’m reviewing this per artist rather than track by track. Here we go:
The Mercury Girls are certainly the best of the bunch. Their sound might seem straightforward at first, the shimmering spark of Lush with the drive of the Dum Dum Girls (who aren’t taken seriously enough). At the same time though their songs are layered with melodies on top of noise on top of harmonies on top of guitars. ‘Holly’, for example, slows down, speeds up, misleads, seems to go nowhere but then at the last moment ends up with a chorus nonetheless. Their other contribution to Continental Drift, ‘Beverly’, is a bit cuter (actually this band is pretty cute anyway, and what do you expect with the word ‘girls’ in their band name?), but again there is a freakish guitar doing its own thing making the music just that tiny bit more interesting that makes you want to listen again. And I want to stress how crafty this actually is: to be loud but never lose sight of the tune.
This is a problem I have with many other bands in this genre and especially two others on this compilation, The Spook School and Wildhoney. The former are, I understand, ‘indie darlings’, and of course they are cause they’re Scottish and who can resist that? But their first song, ‘Sometimes I Hide From Everyone’, sounds hurried and crammed, without any sense of urgency. As if they are trying to win the loudness war, and not in a Helter Skelter way either. From a title expressing such shyness you would expect differently. ‘Gone Home’ is a bit better if only because it’s more conventional, but again in the chorus they lose their clarity, the melody completely drowns beneath the guitars. Not like, say, Black Tambourine’s ‘Throw Aggi Off the Bridge’, which also buries the actual song in a tonne of noise, but which sounds catchy even if you remove that melody altogether (as they almost do in this demo version) because the noise only functions to bring it out, as a contrast.
Wildhoney also prefer sound over melody and almost sound like a pastiche of the genre. I’m not saying it isn’t nice, I just couldn’t listen to this sameness for the duration of a whole record. ‘Horror Movie’ is okay, but closing track ‘T L (Reprisal)’ clocking at almost 7 minutes is just too long – though honestly most songs over 6 minutes are too long. It’s interesting how all those bands can use the same sources of inspiration, but turn out so different.
I’m partial to The Tigercats because they’re from London, but ‘Sydney St.’ might be the best track on this EP. Their sound is more relaxed, polite, than the crunching guitars employed by the other bands. The way the song unfolds into the ‘Open up! Open up!’ chant quite literally like a blooming flower reveals a more careful method of songwriting. It’s reminiscent of Animal Collective eclectic folk, but without the bullshit. The Tigercats’ other song ‘Rent Control’ is more straightforward and punky, but again sensible and catchy and perhaps more characteristic of their overall sound.
Since these EPs are meant to be a kind of showcase, it seems appropriate to end with some advice – the music critic as consumer guide. The Mercury Girls only have a handful of songs out, including what’s on Continental Drift, but those promise enough to keep following the Philadelphia band. The Tigercats have just released their second album Mysteries which is a standing recommendation, though I actually think their two songs on this EP are even better. Wildhoney, well, I wouldn’t care much for them though I can imagine people liking the sound, and similarly with the Spook School. Comparing the US contingent to their UK counterpart, there is no clear ‘winner’, but that’s not what this was about anyway. Both sides of the Atlantic have plenty of good to offer and a lot of it can be found on those two labels, which Continental Drift only confirms.
-- Caspar Jacobs, August 24, 2016