Whenever I think of Tompaulin I almost always think of that bunch who treated Belle and Sebastian comparisons with a huge amount of disdain. Like the indie kiss of death, they would be forever making records in the Scots shadows until it all went horribly wrong and they got swept away in the backwash.
Not that I've been thinking about Tompaulin much at all lately, I must admit. In fact, truth be told, I had all but forgotten about them. Really, it's not my fault - there are just too many records to buy and bands to listen too that I, well, just forgot.
So then, it's lucky for me that the band have seen fit to put together this singles compilation for all the newcomers, the completists and the absent minded.
One or two songs into this record though and it's all coming back to me. I can't believe it's been three years or so since these records overwhelmed me and took over my tiny bedroom, my tiny mind, my tiny world. It was all too easy back then, what with me being a fool for anyone willing to romanticise the weekend heroes and small town smackings of Northern England. Jamie Holman's vocals can cut a sorrowful figure at times but not without some defiance confirming what I always knew, that behind the rundown shopping halls and boarded up leisure centres there were flowers growing. 'Ballad of the bootboys', 'Them vs. us' and 'North' are as precious sounding as they are precious to me. I believe in every word they sing.
I'm just as fond of the 60's styling of 'Slender' and 'My life as a car crash' along with the buzzing amplifiers of ' Give me a riot in the summertime' that threaten to overflow but just about manage to hold back. They remind me of those early Cinerama records when the band wore suits and David and Sally took pictures of each other, rock stars in their daydreams.
In fact I can sense a rock underbelly trying desperately to pump some blood into Tompaulins skinny little fingers sometimes. Take the closing few minutes of 'Swing low Stuart', acoustic strums are underpinned with glorious messy feedback, and it sounds beautiful. But it could have been eyes-closed, head-back beautiful if it wanted to be. I'm glad it isn't: I like the restraint.
I close my eyes and put my head back anyway-
"Songs like this don't just fall out of every band", I think to myself.
That's what I'll think from now on.
Let me tell you: Pas/Cal are an ambitious bunch. Sure, they sound like the Beach Boys... but hasn't every band who's used handclaps and harmonies over sunny tunes in the past 30 years has sounded like the Beach Boys? Does that mean we shouldn't write music of this sort anymore? And what if we like it? What if we like it a lot? What if we need it?
"Honey, we're ridiculous" is sunny-day, driving-fast-by-the-seaside music, but it is heartbreakingly so: it is Beach Boys-descendant indiepop with a dash of rock (of the time when this aspired to produce operas at that too) and a shady poetic twist. It is a collection of four-and-a-quarter songs full of ordinary words smartly arranged on catchy tunes ("something pronounceable, and denounceably plain") that occasionally dissolve into slightly-too-ambitious melodies. Songs that talk mostly about life in America, but do so in a unconventional, unpreceded way, for Pas/Cal discover subjects either too obscure or else too trivial for other bands to notice.
For example, 'What happened to the Sands' seems to be about a hotel, a time in the past who's golden summers we're not old enough to miss and somebody who's once stood where the singer is standing, and yet it also manages to mention 'Kandisky colour splashes', wonder whether it was the "golden, glowing, glimmer... that first brought you here" while being the ep's prospective 'rock' hit and revealing the bands slightly extraordinary ambition, all in three minutes and ten seconds.
'The handbag memoirs', the ep's prospective 'pop' hit, which carries the same unaccounted-for nostalgia: it figures a slightly jealous boyfriend emptying his girlfriend's handbag on her brother's bed and trying to come to terms with the fact that she's had a life without him, too. 'Bem, please come home' is an instrumental that tries to tell a story too and if this isn't enough to convince you, well, there's more: 'What do the American girls have on Jennifer Jo Jo' apparently is modeled upon the "Great American Song". No, really: it seems to be about the difference between America and China ("five thousand miles away it's all the same"), it lasts a little over six minutes and begs to evoce the word 'epic'... oh, and did I mention that it tends to dissolve into a waltz every now and then? And still manage to sound charming?
But my personal favourite has to be 'Poor Maude' - a song about the world's oldest woman's one hundredth and fifteenth birthday, life and tv. The band seem to think is the ep's chamber pop hit; me, I'm not sure what chamber pop is - I just think it has a lovely melody capable of sticking in one's head for way too long and begging to be played again and again, making one happy in the process, and some wonderfully twisted, sweet, strangely inspiring lyrics...
"Hey Maude who put that hideous dress on you?"
"The same fool who called the Channel 7 Action News!"
And they had the nerve to question you
"You lived so long, what has it cost you Maude
What have you got to say for yourself?"
Pas/Cal are an ambitious bunch. But after repetitive listening of "Honey, we're ridiculous" you may find they deserve their ambitions.