What’s the deal with indie kids (us, indie kids) and bittersweet songs? That specific kind of melancholy, preferably wrapped in an innocent pop tune – if you’re reading this blog you probably know what I mean. Surely, not all Belle & Sebastian fans are depressed or have love troubles. I don’t, socially awkward, at most. Demographically, the white middle class guys listening to Twee as Fuck certainly should have it easier than most. The Lord Anthony’s, Painter Janes and String Bean Jeans of the world undoubtably exist, but they’d hardly constitute a fanbase.
And yet… It’s not loneliness necessarily, neither being ‘different’. But there is a certain tendency to seriousness, a detached outlook on life, like perpetually watching yourself from the outside. A love for contemplating alternate realities: escaping in old novels read on a rainy day, making up fantasy worlds, getting lost in music. Discovering the misplaced realities. Dreaming of a life like Scott Pilgrim, or Joel from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The simplicity of childhood, the adventures of falling in love, the counterfactuals. If there’s any essence in enjoying these songs it’s not taking things as they come, but as they could have been.
Blue House then are doing exactly that: suggesting. The album title Suppose says as much: these songs deal in the exact unrealised chances to be found at the crossroads of life. A universe is sketched in the first words: “Then you stole my PlayStation games, sold them on for pocket change”. These words hint at a childhood and a friendship (“Aren’t you a friend?”) far bigger than a song can contain. Other times, the mere melodies do the suggesting by juxtaposing wistful poppy tunes with a general sadness in the vocals. On ‘Ear to the Door’, James Howard sings “I know how it feels to want to be alone” and note the distinction between that and simply feeling alone. Again, a supposition, a longing, an unrealised possibility.
The ten songs on Suppose are exquisitely crafted, with immaculate attention for detail: the up-and-down guitar in “John the Unready” stressing the uneasiness of the story; the synths in “Hot Air Balloons” blaring like alarm horns; the Marine Girl-esque intro to “Museum Worker”. The lyrics are a bit too crafty and quirky, not as definitively sad as those of the Field Mice – of which Blue House remind me most – and neither as dark as The Smiths, even though Howard obviously tries to sound like Morrissey in “Hot Air Balloons”. Occassionally, the band takes a foray into country music, which I’ll allow for “Ear to the Door”, but annoys me just a bit too much on “Weatherman”. Still, Blue House manages to keep up the quality of the oustanding first three tracks, with highlights “January the Tenth”, about the death of David Bowie, and “Simple Song”, which is a very honest title applicable to most tracks on Suppose, to be found on the second half of the album.
Suppose is a record – simple, soft, understated – that you could easily miss, but as it turns out every track has its own secrets worth revealing. While Blue House doesn’t yet reach the levels of the indie pop classics, their fusion of fine melodies and an autumnal sound is well worth your time.
Suppose was released on 30 September on Whipped Cream Records. A full stream is available over at Loud and Quiet.
-- Caspar Jacobs, September 29, 2016