There is a wide-eyed youthfulness to even the most recent Wave Pictures output that belies the fact that songwriter-in-chief David Tattersall has been peddling his endearingly lovelorn brand of indie since 1998. That is not surprising, given that the band count amongst their collaborators and influences such Peter Pan-like figures as Jeffery Lewis and Daniel Johnston, as well as arch-optimists The Mountain Goats. Where they diverge from their American counterparts is in their willingness to get dirty, to admit large dollops of catharsis, titbits of sarcasm and soupcons of bad sex into their highly personal and profoundly suburban world. It is a distinctly British way mode of artistic creation, and has been handed down to Tattersall from Philip Larkin via Morrissey and – another collaborator – Darren Hayman.
As Wave Pictures albums go, City Forgiveness has earned its right to sound less British than its predecessors. A lavish 20-track double LP, it is the result of a six-week tour in the US, during which Tattersall wrote frenziedly. And lo and behold, the guitar that kicks off album opener All My Friends is more grungy, more like Crazy Horse, than anything we’ve previously been used to. Unlike, say, The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle (whose words-per-minute ratio is admirably large), Tattersall is content to give his songs space to grow musically, and he cranks up the noisy guitars throughout. This is somehow fitting given the album’s widescreen, road-trip subject matter, which takes on not only America but also Portugal and Tottenham Court Road.
He’s also willing to try new sounds – witness the Africanisms of the guitar and percussion on Before This Day or Red Cloud Road (Part 2), the jumpy country of Missuula, the insistent, open-ended rock’n’roll of The Woods with its Velvets/Pastels jangle and imagery bordering on the absurd, the melancholic Sesame Street melody of Whisky Bay, the manic brass of Narrow Lane.
But this is a Wave Pictures record, and whatever the music sounds like, the lyrics are always going to be impossible to ignore. Pitched somewhere between constant surprise and ready wit, Tattersall can hit you with an unexpectedly bittersweet one-liner – ‘I need the world and the world is a stinging nettle’ – or wring the last droplets of emotion out of a repeated, potentially hackneyed phrase – ‘It’s better to have loved’. And his eye for detail is spot-on, and sometimes startling, as showcased on the delightfully un-sugary Golden Syrup.
Over the twenty tracks of City Forgiveness you’d expect to have to employ the skip button at least once or twice, especially given the speediness with which the songs were composed, but quality control doesn’t seem to be an issue here. Even accounting for the rare derivative moments (it’s hard to believe the opening of Atlanta wasn’t written by Jonathan Richman) there is something of interest at every turn. Indie guitar bands as good – and as clever – as this don’t come along very often. The Wave Pictures are a good old-fashioned cult band, the sort that would have featured heavily on mix-tapes made by besotted hipsters, back in the days when people still made each other mix tapes. They deserve so much more.
Review by: Thomas Blake
The Wave Pictures play their final London show of the year on December 22nd at The Lexington. Tickets are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment!
Released via Moshi Moshi (Out Now)
Order via Amazon