Sometimes, when tangled in the thicket of some intractable, slowly dying metaphor, or struggling to find something vaguely interesting to say about the latest landfill indie from four floppy-haired plonkers from Faringdon, I do wonder-what am I getting out of this? The work is unpaid, it costs quite a lot in precious free time, and there’s always the possibility of a sustained campaign of internet abuse from fans of bands that haven’t fared so well in these pages (all right, I actually quite enjoy those).
And then I remember: I have the opportunity to watch bad bands become good (Bear in the Air), good bands become great (Stornoway), and I have the enjoyment of finding unknown gems lurking in the middle of an inauspicious Thursday bill at the Jericho, Bully, Cellar or Wheatsheaf (Libelula, Minor Coles, Schnauser of recentish vintage) .
And there’s more: we reviewers get the rather delicious opportunity to push talented musicians about. We told The Scholars to stop sounding like Editors: they’re doing it. We told Stornoway to ditch their rag-week jape songs if they wanted to make it: they did and they did.
Oh, and we told Tamara Parsons-Baker to get a band. If you remember, the closest Oxford has to Grace Slick was suffering from a mismatch between the soaring rhetorical power of her voice and the paltry inoffensiveness of her acoustic guitar backing. Instead of sulking and grumpily posting on the comments board (as more than a few of her fans were happy to do-some of them make President Ahmadinejad look like Rabbi Lionel Blue), she clearly took it on board, and her involvement with Huck and the Handsome Fee has proved wonderfully synergistic.We should be on ten percent.
Huck himself, rather improbably, is the ex-bassist of stoner rock monsters Sextodecimo, but in this incarnation he is part sensitive folk crooner and part Fred Schneider-style circus ringmaster. This latter side comes out on standout track ‘Passion Man’ in which he and Tamara channel the boy/girl call-and-answer style of the B-52s with amazing brio. The song itself is a campy, grooving joy, with funny, gently subversive lyrics (‘What About Jesus? Well, he’ll never please us’), absurdly danceable drumming, a clean guitar riff that sounds like David Byrne trying to outfunk James Brown and two singers who are clearly having the time of their lives. Good Stuff? Bloody marvellous, more like.
‘The Fall’ opens with a ‘Taxman’-style count-off before Parsons-Baker and Huck launch into a brooding, minimalist torch ballad replete with poetically sour musings about love gone wrong. All nature seems out of joint in lines like the following:
‘The birds were never our friends, though we shared the sun with them’.
‘Jason’ shares the same, downbeat, D. Gwalia-tries-to-cheer-up-Nick Cave-and-fails style, and this one, though pretty and heartfelt, and with a drowsily hypnotic guitar pick, could do with a trim or two, coming in at a somewhat portly six minutes.
Huck and Tamara are both good singers, but I hope that in the future the latter is given the odd solo number, as they are a bit of an odd couple, especially on the ballads. He is tremulous and sometimes approximate, she is limpid and crystalline and the more obviously sellable vocalist. However they decide to play it in the future, the band is classy and mature, the songs are compelling, and reports of the live show oscillate between the approving and the rapturous. See them soon. And you can sign me up for another couple of years.