The last instalment of the jangle interlude on this particular Unpopular advent sees the welcome return of The Lodger, whose trio of albums from 2006 to 2010 (‘Grown Ups’, ‘Life Is Sweet’, ‘Flashbacks’) were exemplary collections of chiming Pop that made reference to the most perfect texts. They were Buzzcocks covering Anthony Newly, The Lucksmiths from colder climes. They were Leeds 4, Hull 0.
Their reappearance in 2021 with the super ‘Cul-De-Sac of Love’ set may have been unexpected, but the sound that they make remains every bit as thrilling. Those previous points of reference still stick, but this time around they resonate more softly in the background, as ‘Cul-De-Sac of Love’ shows off an inevitably more mature and complex Lodger. The shiny trill of their earlier records are smoothed off delightfully here, leaving something funkier, slinkier yet still with just enough pointed edges to prick the skin. In many ways it reminds me of the way Davey Henderson went from the discordant disco background music for active lives with Fire Engines to the Super Popoid Groove of Win and then to some kind of fizzing point between the two with Nectarine No. 9. Indeed, there are some tremendous Nectrarine flavoured guitar inserts on the terrific ‘I’m Over This (Get Over It)’, which might explain why it is perhaps my favourite cut on the album.
Elsewhere there are hints of the PopPerfect Wire circa ‘154’ and, more than anything else, the patina of the kind of nostalgic heavenly Pop hits dreamt of by Vic Godard when he was channeling Sinatra at the Club Left. There’s even a tune called ‘Stop That Girl!’ Not that The Lodger sound anything like Subwaysect. That would be too easy. No, The Lodger in their 2021 guise are more a hazy illusive vision of a mid ’80s synthpop infatuated by West Coast Soft Pop. Sophie and Peter Johnston with a bag of Turtles 45s in their bedroom with shelves of Beach Boys bootlegs under posters of Peter Lorimer, perhaps.
The Beach Boys vibe is most clearly heard on the terrific non-album single ‘Bewildered’ and that is the number that makes it into our advent mix. Masquerading as a song about an on/off relationship, I admit I hear it as a dialogue with the self or even simply as an observation of the polarised nature of 21st Century existence, endlessly and destructively arguing with itself. Ben Sidall casts an eye back to the comfort blanket of the Beatles as he sings that “Love isn’t complicated” A phalanx of harmonies caress and cajol him as he adds, resignedly, “we’re just not that smart.”
If The Lodger were an almost forgotten favourite making a welcome return in 2021, then Tigers and Flies were something of a new revelation. An eponymous EP in 2018 was a amusing enough diversion but frankly did little to suggest much more than another pleasant guitar indie band. Just three years on, however, and the change is startling, as Tigers and Flies deliver in ‘Among Everything Else’ an album that is by turns quirky, nervy, assured and endlessly listenable.
In places, most notably on the fabulous ‘Bat And Ball’ it reminds me of nothing less than the mighty Animals That Swim. The same keenly sketched vignettes of social observation. The same sharp burst of horns giving the robust rhythm section and clanging guitars a delicious cloak of warmth. Of course if you wanted a less obtuse reference point then maybe Tigers and Flies are tuned into Blur circa ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’, which is to say when Blur never sounded better. Or The Jam when they were in the throes of a Beat Surrender, or Weller shortly afterwards when The Style Council were shouting to the top. That’s all a shade too lazy, however, for whilst Tigers and Flies might wear influences proudly on sleeves they manage to transcend those points of reverence to emerge from the cocoon of these past three years sounding astonishingly bright and mature.
Having found a home on the Violette label that released Mick Head’s great ‘Adios Pussycat’ set back in 2017 it is perhaps also no surprise to hear a strong Head influence shot through many of the songs on ‘Among Everything Else’. Certainly fans of Pale Fountains and Shack will find much to love here, particularly on numbers like the three minute burst of ‘Headspace’, sparkling single ‘Half’ and the frankly gorgeous five and a half odd minutes of ‘Ben’. Elsewhere, the edgy two minute explosion of ‘In My Skin’ is in the vein of Wolfhounds, Yummy Fur, Hellfire Sermons, Comet Gain, Playwrights, Lets Wrestle, fill-in-your-favourite-here and is a breathless 400 blows to the solar plexus. Perhaps people once thought that Arctic Monkeys sounded this good too, but I really could not say.
What I can say is that in ‘Among Everything Else’ Tigers and Flies have made a record that explodes with flavours that are both exquisitely familiar and deliciously blended to sound fresh and new. It deserves to be heard by an audience immeasurably larger than any to be found in this Unpopular universe.