U.N.P.O.C. Until November Perhaps, Or Christmas
The fifth column: Clandestine group or faction of subversive agents who attempt to undermine a nation's solidarity by any means at their disposal.
One of the above is a Real Definition, from an interweb Encyclopedia. The other is a daft definition, that came from U.N.P.O.C.'s web-page. It shouldn't be too hard to work out which is which. U.N.P.O.C.'s web page will also tell you that the initials appeared on the helmets of Russian cosmonauts and that they graced a range of tinned food in the country of Unpokistan.
Its this sort of marvellously creative silliness, combined with an underlying intelligence and awareness that makes U.N.P.O.C. such a delight. 'The Fifth Column' is their debut album, released last month to the sound of journalists muttering about Brian Wilson and frantically searching the modern interweb to find out what, exactly, U.N.P.O.C. really does stand for.
(I know this because I found the reviews whilst thinking about Brian Wilson and searching the modern interweb to find out what, exactly, U.N.P.O.C. did stand for.)
Anyway, what's it all about? What can you expect? What's all this talk of 60s legends, and can any of it be justified?
Taking those questions one at a time:-
U.N.P.O.C., or Tom Bauchop as he's otherwise known, are about soaring vocals, offbeat lyrics and charming eccentricity. You can expect an album of atmospheric, slow-burning pop gems that start from nothing and build around you - an album that improves with subsequent listens and can make you smile and sigh at the same time.
The obvious comparison is to The Beach Boys,but that doesn't mean you should expect some sort of surf-tinged nostalgia. This band is never so predictable. The songs draw from a variety of styles, metamorphosing as they continue into something completely different from what you might have been expecting. Often the songs begin quiet and small and then just go...off somewhere...off, into the Mind Of Bauchop - and what a strange and beautiful place that seems to be...
There's a scousepop feel to 'Amsterdam'; a Galaxie 500-style guitar wall at the end of 'Come In'; a dark, brooding suspense to 'Nicaragua'; a flat, ranting style at the end of 'I Love You Lady Luck' of which Mark E. Smith might approve and, perhaps, a hint of a salsa beat in 'I Don't Feel Too Steady On My Feet'.
Certain tracks stand out - 'Here On My Own' is a masterpiece of echoing angst, 'Some Kinds Of People' displays sunny harmonies over kitchen-sink dreams of corner shops - like a deranged surf 'She's A Lady' and 'So In Tune' sets a disjointed, vaguely manic narrative to more soaring vocals ('Old ladies help me cross the street, they're so kind') - the refrain 'Cos I love you/ I'm so in tune' sung appealingly off-key.
It would be a shame to criticise the fact that the recordings sound a little home-made. Although there's more than enough talent here to suggest that, given a little more financial support, U.N.P.O.C. could go on to iron out those kinks and create an 'easier', more commerical proposition I genuinely hope they do not do so. The joy is in the strangeness, in the veering away from what is expected. U.N.P.O.C. must remain unhinged, unspoiled, unpredictable and (allow me one more 'un') - crucially - unaffected. These feel honest and immediate, and a little rough. And that's the way I like them.
I must confess that I don't know what the album title really refers to - what, if any, part of the nation U.N.P.O.C. are trying to subvert - the album begins and ends with what may be references to the title - hints of wartime interrogation in 'Amsterdam' and talk of insurgency in 'Nicaragua' - but, whatever their target is, it ought to be just a little bit worried. It already feels like they could sneak into the centre of music industry and take whatever they wanted. If the enemy is so charming, why bother fighting?
No, U.N.P.O.C. aren't our enemies. Not yours and mine. Not unless they're going to destroy us by making us smile, and sing, and enjoy life just a little bit more.
And those initials? Well, I've decided they stand for 'Uniquely Nice Pop On CD'.
Of course, they don't. But I'm sure they won't mind.