The Little Philistines - 'Nuclear Envelope' (UK Release: 8 Oct '12) // Words: Howard Gorman
What caught my attention on pushing play were the wired vocals, harking back to adolescent years, popping zits to the sound of Andy Partridge on the radio, and pop hooks as sugary sweet as Madness and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Sure, they may appear obfuscated in the fashionable fanfares of the eighties, but, 'Nuclear Envelope' is actually much more indebted to the naughty nineties.
When I say this, I mean no harm. As irascible as Damon Albarn over a Bank Holiday and as indolent as Phil Daniels’ getting up whenever he wants, except on Wednesdays, The Little Philistines’ debut finds itself more in line with extant Britpop revivalists such as Maximo Park than eighties addicts like Hot Hot Heat.
The defining moment comes in the form of 'Hugo Says', evocative of Blur’s 'Bank Holiday' as it steers out of control, with choppy guitar and a Futureheads-esque call and response chorus reining it back on track. Similarly, top-notch opener 'She’s My Food' sees the band sounding more like Dogs Die In Hot Cars (what happened to them?) than Men At Work.
The supporting zippy string and horn section on 'She's My Food' make for a sound Dogs would have died for. The backing vocals provided by Emily Dresner make the ideal compliment to the lead. I think they chose wisely to use this track first, comprehensively setting the scene for what’s to come.
The hottest track on the album, 'Hot Phone', if you’ll pardon the pun, would have fit snugly on Maximo Park’s 'Our Earthly Pleasures', with a guitar hook a la 'Books From Boxes', portraying lyricisms we’ve heard from the likes of Smith and Cocker - “I’m a bookworm, but I never read my bills”. The snappy chorus and multi-layered sections bring thoughts of Futureheads into the loop, backed up with a cheekily simple yet competent Casio keyboard fragment.
'Idiom Idiot' jumps and drifts about, with My Life Story/Dexy's style sinusitis vocals. Unfortunately, this is the first mis-step by the band. They seem to head for another direction, not quite sure where they want to be. Having said that, they see a path in the clearing and once there, we find them in Blur’s 'Parklife' era, and even Mariachi’s are there to welcome them back. If, like me, this track didn’t quite convince you on first listening. Press play again and let me know if you can shake “She’s an idiom idiot” from the back of your head.
One of The Little Philistines best capacities is their talent at arranging catchy tunes using klutzy rhythms and unexpected shifts – never an easy task to achieve. With tracks like 'Stammer From The Heart' and 'Pick Me Up' the band manage to dig themselves into your skull regardless of haphazard verses and unexpected ricochets into frantic ELO orchestrations, or they adeptly combine ska surges with more contemporary Zutons-inspired keyboard choruses, 'Hot Phone' being a prime example of this.
The only song that had me hemming and hawing was 'Pigeon Shit Bridge'. This Blur 'To The End' style waltz, relating an iPod mugging in a dodgy district needs something extra to stand up as high as their more frantic songs. Although the next track, 'Burns', is also a slow burner, it’s one the band have arranged to perfection. Instrument and lyric amalgamation doesn‘t get much sturdier than this. They could definitely ride the storm with this one, comparable to The Doors whilst injecting their novel mix of military snare drumming and jaunty guitar.
The album closes on the title track 'Nuclear Envelope', and once again, they’ve chosen wisely as I do believe it will have you hitting that play button again. The use of the lyric “I need my new sci-fi nuclear envelope” may be used far from sparingly but the constant build up keeps the song from turning sour. Inevitable comparisons with Maximo Park and The Futureheads can be made again, in the good sense, adeptly combining literary references and atypical yet impenetrable arrangements.
I may have made more than the odd comparison but please don’t get me wrong - The Little Philistines cannot be considered the lovechild of everything great about the eighties and nineties. Each and every track exemplifies their own selfdom, putting to bed any insinuations of glossy karaoke. 'Nuclear Envelope' clearly wears our adolescent eighties and nineties on its sleeves but the band can’t be criticized for schlepping around in their parents' old vinyl collection as the ten tracks adeptly add more than accessible arrangements to the mix whilst proving they are inventive wordsmiths to boot.
If I had a criticism, and it’s a minor one at that, had The Little Philistines. managed to up their game just a tad more on album’s slower moments this would have been one of those few albums where not a single track gets the skip button treatment. As I said, this is a minor fault and when they get ballistic (which is most of the album), I found myself press to come up with anyone who can measure up to their feistiness.
'Nuclear Envelope' is out now. Find more info and purchase the album at thelittlephilistines.bandcamp.com.