Wednesday, October 26th, 2005
C Is The Heavenly Option
I was pleasantly surprised to see Pitchfork’s feature story on twee and indie pop this week. While I’m nothing remotely resembling a connisseur of the genre (as my brief tenure as a member of the Indiepop List proved – I could go through entire digests and not see one band name I recognized), I do like a good dose of anorak-wearing, note-passing, kitten-petting, sugar-frosted wimp rock now and again. Too much of it and I want to go start fights just to get the testosterone levels back into the black, but in properly measured doses, it’s great. I definitely prefer the British stuff to the American (C86 yes, K Records no), and since I already did a Field Mice post earlier this year, I’ll devote this one to Heavenly, as well as their antecendents and descendents.
I was very pleased that the article acknowledged that despite being one of the big bands of the “twee” scene, Heavenly were far from stereotypical of it. The musicianship was top-notch, especially Peter Momtchiloff’s sinewey guitar lines, the production tight and the harmonies between Amelia Fletcher and Cathy Rogers, well, heavenly. But I think my favourite thing about Heavenly was the lyrical content – it wasn’t cutesy, though it may have sounded like it because of the delivery. It was clever, sharp and often quite dark. Themes like shiftless boyfriends, romantic despair and date rape abounded – rather than write about daydreamy schoolgirl crushes, they seemed to prefer to talk about what happens when the boy turns out to be a total dick. But in such a way that you could dance to.
The heart and soul of Heavenly were the Fletchers, siblings Amelia and Matthew. Amelia was the voice that made the indie boys swoon, Matthew played the drums. They’d started out as teenagers in Talulah Gosh, and what that outfit lacked in sophistication, they made up with the bubbly energy that characterized the early British indiepop sound. After a couple of albums and singles (collected on Backwash), Talulah Gosh disbanded and reassembled with a couple of lineup changes as Heavenly. Sadly, their run ended in 1996 when Matthew Fletcher took his own life after the recording of their third and final album, Operation: Heavenly.
A few years later, the remnants of Heavenly regrouped with a new drummer and became Marine Research, who released one wonderful album in Songs From The Gulf Stream that continued on down the pure pop path that Heavenly begun before disbanding themselves. But despite losing Momtchiloff and Rogers (who would go on to host Junkyard Wars), the remaining members soldiered on in yet another incarnation, Tender Trap, who released Film Molecules in 2002. And that’s pretty much the last I’ve heard of Amelia Fletcher’s adventures in indie pop. This article in The Guardian last year says she’s director of economic and statistical advice and financial analysis at the Office of Fair Trading – probably not a euphemism for active rock’n’roller. But she’s allowed to retire – she’s created more than her share of great pop music.
Here’s some muuuusic for ya. I had wanted to post both tracks from this Built To Spill/Marine Research 7″ wherein each band covers one of the others’ songs (BTS does a Heavenly tune), but I see that it’s still in print. Even though I’ve posted both tunes in the past as an MP3 of the week, I’m not comfortable with posting the entirety of the record (and I don’t want Calvin Johnson to come kick my ass) so you’ll just have to buy it if you want to hear it. But take my word for it, they’re great. The BTS track also appears on their The Normal Years compilation. I will give you one old Heavenly tune and one new(er) one. “Shallow” comes from their debut record Heavenly Vs Satan while “Space Manatee” is from their swan song, Operation: Heavenly (mp3s courtesy of Epitonic – they may ask you to register, if you haven’t before).
There’s also some good Marine Research stuff available online at their old label.
You know, trying to find online info about lower-profile bands that predate the internet is BRUTAL. The above pre-Cathy pic is the only Heavenly image of any size I could find online. You’d think someone would have scanned the liner notes of any of their albums at some point. Don’t look at me, I don’t have a scanner.
The Cardigans were twee once upon a time. Then they discovered metal. They talk to The Cribs have indeed cancelled their North American tour, the other two acts on the bill – Longwave and Giant Drag will still be playing. Refunds are available for those who only wanted to see The Cribs and tickets for the smaller show are now just $10.
So I ordered an iPod last week. One of the new video dealie doos, a 60 gigger. Please, no congratulations on my indoctrination into the cult of creepy black silhouettes doing funky dances on billboards, it was strictly a pragmatic move since I’ve noticed my CDs are starting to get scuffed from being constantly loaded and unloaded into CD wallets and being toted around. That said, I am excited about getting my new toy which according to FedEx, left Shanghai yesterday and is currently over the Pacific somewhere. What was it doing in Shanghai? Getting engraved, apparently. Why did it have to go to Shanghai to get engraved? I do not know.
np – Mojave 3 / Spoon & Rafter