Channel Hanna, Beautiful Freaks favourites Rainbow Reservoir’s debut album and the follow up to the punky twee of their Coco Sleeps Around EP, opens with the exuberant ‘Brenda’. It’s an excellent example of what we’ve come to expect from Angela and her varying crew: a character-focused track that’s always catchier and cuter than the messy guitars and wonky drums would lead you to expect. ‘B-b-b-b-Brenda!’, Angela ominously articulates with an American accent, addressing the girl who is too full of herself with pity and detached disapproval. In Belle & Sebastian fashion, Angela’s characters are the usual pathetic misfits of society whose lives are incomprehensible (and perversely romantic) when viewed from a distance, and who certainly deserve our compassion. In other words: Coco’s, Anthony’s, Brenda’s and Judy’s of the world, unite!
Another forename prominently occurring on Channel Hanna is, of course, the titular character. This is undoubtedly a reference to Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna of riot grrl fame. On the title track, Angela gives her a nod: “Rebel girl, you’re a tiger, give me some of your fire”. The lopsided synths are reminiscent of Hanna’s later bands The Julie Ruin and Le Tigre, and it’s certain that some of that fire has rubbed off on Rainbow Reservoir. On the other hand, they are channelling much more than that. Closer to home, for example, there’s Talulah Gosh, who could have written ‘Gold Star Girl’ were they around now.
Of course, these days you can’t get away being that twee (although RR get dangerously close on the ultra-sweet ‘Rainbows Don’t End’). In tune with what’s coming out of London and further afield these days (think: The Tuts), Rainbow Reservoir’s indie pop is infused with a healthy dose of LOUD, a tendency which is further amplified on stage. This way, they’re steering clear of indie pop clichés, but occasionally they veer off the other way with too simple stomper pop. Like ‘Just Say Yes’ off the Coco EP, Channel Hanna knows a few tracks that just don’t do much for me, such as ‘Forest Fire’ and ‘Posh Ponytails’. Perhaps these songs work better live, but on record you can only turn up the volume so much. Indie pop isn’t the province of slightly shy clever white boys with books and glasses anymore, and that’s right (channel Hanna!), but sometimes I wish Rainbow Reservoir were a bit more subtle. And that they can do this is abundantly clear: ‘Gold Star Girl’, an older one making a welcome reappearance on Channel Hanna, is a sweet story about lesbian Brenda who’s never been with boys – but why is it preceded by a crude prelude about creepy kissers?
Now I’m not as blind as not to see the irony of juxtaposing gold star Brenda with creepy club kissers. Indeed, part of my latent issue with some (and only some) of Channel Hanna is its humour. Again, sometimes this is a feature: whether it’s the pun in “Change the station – channel Hanna!” or the aforementioned ‘Rainbows Don’t End’, which might as well have unicorns dancing around it, Angela knows how to make her listener chuckle or smile. The highlight here is ‘Big Bunny’, which chorus of “ooh ooh ooh BIG BUNNY” is so not punk that it’s maximally punk (channel Hanna!). One or two times, though, it gets a bit too jokey for a serious student such as myself. Still, Rainbow Reservoir are in good company here: the Pastels, who are certainly being channeled on Channel Hanna, wrote their fair share of joke songs. ‘Truck Train Tractor’, anyone?
And like The Pastels, Rainbow Reservoir have everything to become a well-cherished cult band too few people will ever have heard of. They’re on Odd Box Records, after all! Back in 2016 I wrote that if you want to jump on the bandwagon, you better cut and paste together your ‘Coco’ badge now. If it says ‘Brenda’ on it, that’s fine too. For now, the heirs to Talulah Gosh remain one of Oxford’s better kept secrets, but with Channel Hanna that’s hopefully set to change!
-- Caspar Jacobs, February 26, 2018