tremble clef

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Shortwave Set, "Yr Room" (2005)

If I didn't have a love-hate relationship with the expression "love-hate relationships" (hate: bit of a cliché, love: it is fairly descriptive), I would tell you that I have a love-hate relationship with The Shortwave Set.

First things first: despite the oft-repeated line that the band is a "South East London Saint Etienne," I just don't hear it. Maaaaybe if you close your eyes while listening to "Is It Any Wonder," concentrating especially on the fab ascending keyboard bit, you could imagine it as the second track of Foxbase Alpha. Otherwise, as good friend and reader of this blog esque put it to me, "I guess that it could be like Saint Etienne, if Bob and Pete were more interested in wobblywiggly synthesizer noizes than in poptimism, and if Sarah couldn't sing..." A bit harsh, perhaps, but also: indeed.

Several tracks on The Debt Collection are just too determined to be tweely eclectic to not provoke a smidgen of hate: "Better Than Bad," with its ukelele, or the way "Roadside" aspires to sound like something a monkey organ grinder is cranking out. But then again, there are some truly genius tracks as well: "Is It Any Wonder" may well turn out to be one of the singles of the year, and "Repeat To Fade," largely shorn of gimmicks, has a beautiful and catchy melody that brings out the yearning desperation of the lyric. If I were trying to illustrate either the "hate" or "love" parts of my relationship with the band, I would post one of these tracks.

But instead, here is the closer: a quiet, lo-fi ballad called "Yr Room." It's a really pretty song which Ulrika Bjorsne begins singing in a poignantly fragile way. "Oh, the things that will be-ee-eee/All the places we'll see/From your room, where we'll plan what will be soon/We'll be the king and the queen/Of all your rooms." The lines are instant, vivid, immediately capturing the way love can make even the smallest spaces seem sufficient as long as the lovers are both in it. But then Ulrika has to accidentally "crack up," and make a "mistake" singing the song, which the band then quibbles about keeping in. I guess breaking the fourth wall is cool. "I give up, I give up, it's not working!" Ulrika finally says, emitting a little shriek of frustration that's very pleasant on the ears, especially through headphones. Oh, Shortwave Set -- you almost had me. Couldn't you do the song straight and leave the "outtakes" that show your "honesty" and warts for the career boxed set?


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