I Hope You’re Feeling Better Now
Don’t get me wrong, I love AMG. In fact, I think their site is just mind-blowing. The pure size and amount of useful (and sometimes indispensable) information that the AMG database contains is truly a wonder to behold. But inevitably, they get shit wrong. They do make surprisingly few mistakes in their biographical facts and discographical information, but their “Similar Artists / Influenced By / Followers” section is best taken with a grain, nay a kilo, of salt. One is probably best to take more notice of the descriptive adjectives they use to describe a band’s music (peppy, angsty, cathartic, upbeat, etc, etc), rather than taking serious note of any of the “Similar Artists” they list. However, one day, clearly not satisfied with the level of Superchunk-like sounds in my life, I decided to make a point of checking out all of the bands listed on the AMG Chunk page. Irving was one of these bands. I believe they were a “Follower”.
Well, I soon discovered they didn’t sound much like my beloved Superchunk after all. And to tell you the truth, on the strength of the few tracks I downloaded, I didn’t care much for whatever it was they did sound like. The mp3’s I grabbed seemed to sound tinny, trebly, formless, and in dire need of a hook. Fast forward a few years, and enter e-Bay into the picture. The wonderful world of on-line trading has opened up a new world of affordable, quality, overseas indie product that would have otherwise remained beyond our Antipodean grasp, (or only been available in hard-to-find and ridiculously over-priced import form). Cool bands that I could previously only read about on web pages, suddenly have become an viable, obtainable proposition. So when I saw this e-P cheap on e-Bay, I decided to give Irving another shot. Besides, shitty downloads are a notoriously bad way to introduce yourself to a new band.
And am I ever glad that I gave Irving another chance. This Ep is simply fantastic. Schizophrenic as a motherfucker, but fantastic all the same. A quiet, meditative start consisting of gently strummed guitars and hippie-esque harmonies gives way to a momentary blast of distortion and feedback before the first track, “The Curious Thing About Leather”, finally finds its bouncy groove. It’s a catchy pop song – part Elephant 6, part Belle & Sebastian / Lucksmiths charm – that steadily builds in scope as it moves forward. The track’s musings about a “Cynthia Weston” and its infectious, sunny ambience almost make it feel like a companion piece to The Decemberists’ “Billy Liar”. The song even manages to top itself (and The Decemberists) in the final section with a chorus of ridiculously over-the-top “ba-ba-bas” that are entirely appropriate for such a joyful exploration of the, errr, 7-minute pop song.
The second track, “The Guns From Here”, successfully evokes New Order filtered through the sugary-electro-pop of OMD. It possesses a chorus so familiar you almost can’t believe its not a cover off the Pretty In Pink soundtrack. It’s embodiment of the 80’s is absolutely spot-on without sounding trite or contrived, and through the use of some up-front acoustic guitars, it easily sidesteps any tendencies towards whimpiness that such treacle-y synth-pop excursions usually entail.
The Ep’s mid/focal point, “White Hot”, continues Irving’s brilliant run. A Kinks-y (garage) pop number that slinks, struts and proudly flaunts its sublime, horn-led chorus like a bizarre but oh-so-cool cross between Malkmus on red cordial and Rocket From The Crypt on valium…pairing up to do a cover from Afghan Whigs’ “1965” disc. It shows yet another side to this successfully eclectic band. The track (and particularly the chorus hook) is basically flawless, and gives garage rock the kind of fun, poppy fizz it so obviously needs to lift it from the sorry, derivative, unspeakably boring hands of the Jets of this world.
“I Can’t Fall In Love” beautifully melds the themes of the first two tracks, that is, guitar pop and new-wave-y pop, to come of like a fuller sounding, more rockin’ Magnetic Fields. The Stephen Merritt reference is particularly pertinent in Irving’s appealing ability to marry an obscenely infectious, upbeat chorus with the singer’s sad proclamation that he can’t find love. In fact, the whole track is brimming with melodic brilliance. Irving gives the vocals a subtle 80’s–style treatment that works to excellent effect, especially when married with a suitably retro, swirling-80’s keyboard backing. They even find room for a two decade leap, with the appearance of some glitch-y beats towards the end of the song. For me, this one’s the Ep high-point.
Ep closer, the grammatically challenged, “Please Give Me Your Heart, Is All I Need”, features guest vocals from Niki Colk of Kaito (UK). And the track certainly bares more than a few similarities with her band’s work. Pulsing keyboards signal the inevitable launch into a Kaito-style rush of distorted keyboards, urgent drums, and semi-shouted, Bikini Kill-lite vocals. Thankfully, Irving pull back on the chorus which suddenly slows the tempo and drops the distortion and screaming keyboards, to make way for a clean Beach Boys meets Matthew Sweet chorus. As the song closes out it layers both of the aforementioned incongruous song-sections over one another, to form a nicely melodious/raucous conclusion. The “trick” is so simple yet so effective, it almost seems as if Irving are telling the listener, “This is what we do, and this is how we do it. See, it’s really not that hard. Maybe you can do this, too.”
But I don’t think many of us could. Irving are operating on a fairly high plain with this Ep, which is a diverse, pop-inflected, indie rock treat. Writers are always complaining about Eps not being long enough, but I would much rather have an Ep of 5 back-to-back home runs rather than an entire album plagued by patchiness and filler. “I Hope You’re Feeling Better Now” is just flat out great. Even if Irving don’t sound much like Superchunk after all.