Lightships - "Sweetness in her Spark" (Electric Cables)
Let’s get one thing straight: With the exception of some of the Alex Chilton worship on Bandwagonesque, Teenage Fanclub were never really “retro.” There’s a big difference between trying to relive other people’s former glories, and simply doing what best serves the songs you enjoy writing. Teenage Fanclub always did the latter, and they did it with three distinctive song writing voices, from Norman Blake’s honeyed pop, to Raymond McGinley’s chiming, driving chords, and Gerard Love’s wistful charm.
I’m not one to play favorites, but there’s little in this world that a Gerard Love song can’t solve, and for that reason his songs on Teenage Fanclub records have always been closest to my heart. So it’s a pleasure to hear him step out as Lightships, under the patronage of The Pastels and their Geographic imprint (Love also plays in the current Pastels line-up). If Teenage Fanclub has lately traded the forthright pop of early songs like “The Concept” and “Radio” for more pacific climes, that shift is also reflected in the unhurried tenor of the songs on Electric Cables, the way they’re content to take things at an easy clip. Their cantering pace means you can revel in the slyness of Love’s melodies, the way they sidle up to your ears and share their secrets quietly.
Love’s also using Electric Cables as a space for experimentation, and at times it’s like a water-logged, Arthur Russell-esque projection of pop music. Going into the recordings, to paraphrase Love’s notes on the album from the Lightships blog, he was enamored of tactics like delay, looping, tremolo and vibrato, all effects which phantasmagorize instruments, giving them flickering, cascading resonance, a spectral quality, like a flip-book or color wheels, or as though the record was playing through a dream-machine. This bed of shivering tones lends Electric Cables a magical character, as though the melodies are emerging from a flicker film. Songs like “Sweetness Of Her Spark” or the lovely “Girasol” feel as though they’ve been called into existence from the ether — the use of tremolo, delay, simple electronics, and Tom Crossley’s counter-melodies for flute set the songs just above the horizon, hovering against the sunset.
There’s something of the natural world about Electric Cables — checking the song titles will clue you in, full of sunlight, blossoms, and “Muddy Rivers.” But it’s also cosmopolitan, full of stylish twists, blue-eyed soul harmonies, touches of dub (check the playful melodica on “Photosynthesis,” or the watery reverb-crack of the snare on “Sweetness In Her Spark”) and nods toward sunshine pop. It’s a beautiful collection of ‘water music’ that also serves as a reminder that experimentation often works best when smuggled in, sidereal style, under the canvas cover of pop songs.