Accrington Stanley-Exactly (Humphry Records)
Their seventh album since 1988, Peel faves and purveyors of properly independent Indie-Pop, Accrington Stanley are the sound of the C86 Generation reaching middle-age but making their best ever music, says Ged Babey.
Do you remember the first time you heard REM’s ‘Out of Time’ album and how great it sounded; full of warmth and wisdom and musically âgrown upâ?
Can you imagine, unlikely though it may sound, Stuart Staples from Tindersticks singing with the Wedding Present from the Jonathan Richman songbook?
Or maybe if Beck had started off in a Smiths-obsessed C86 band and, reaching 40, started having a musical mid-life crisis whilst recording Ode-lay?
Oh. I donât know, Accrington Stanley are hard to describe. They seem to be a straightforward band until you put them under the microscope and see all of the diverse elements that make up their sound.
When I saw them way, way back in the mid to late 80âs, third on the bill, I pretty much dismissed them as ordinary, run-of-the-mill, indie-pop, jangley, shambling students having a go at the weedy end of the Peel spectrum (Sarah Records, Subway Organisation, etc.). They just werenât my cup of tea. Not punk-rock enough to tickle my fancy. I did notice a bit of a Violent Femmes vibe about them though, which set them apart slightly from their contemporaries.
Accrington Stanley, despite being named after a Lancashire football club are from Southampton: Home of Benny Hill, Mick Channon, the Titantic, Howard Jones, Craig David…although on the positive side there is Band of Skulls, a 60âs freakbeat band called Les Fleur De Lys, Ken Russell, hipster indie band (the) Delays, and the Men They Couldnât Hang who had origins in the city. Its not Manchester though is it?
In their own words, Accrington Stanley âsprang to obscurity in the late 1980’s …(and have) a poignant inability to be fashionable…â
Self-releasing cassettes whilst teenagers, their debut proper ‘Giddyblueperfection’ came in 1988 and is the only one which isnât currently available (to download). The others are Fathon (1990), Lovebound (1993), Half Life (1996), Uplift (2005) and the Valley Studio Sessions EP/Mini LP (2007)
To their credit,they failed to jump practically every passing bandwagon and trend from shoe-gaze to baggy to Britpop and grunge, sticking to guitar/keyboards pop with the odd bit of cello and wry, witty lyricism balancing out the twee introspection of some of the songs.
Last year, two of their albums appeared in John Peel’s Archive when it was put up online, resulting in them regrouping, getting enthusiastically interviewed on local TV and a write up in the Quietus which described them as âAnother pure Peel treasure, a discography stretching back to 1987…eccentric, witty indie purveyed by not easily dissuaded creative incontinence.â Not sure whether that last bit is a compliment or not.
‘Exactly’, released on their own Humphry label, can only be described as (and Iâm sorry about this), a mature album, full of nice catchy tunes, clever lyrics and songs about middle class white males going through a âmid-life crisisâ. Donât let that put you off though ‘cos itâs a magnificent, thoroughly affecting album, full of charm, wit and loaded with musical invention. It has a timelessness, real sense of character but somehow does have the warmth, emotional pull and feel of REMâs ‘Out of Time’, the wit of a Southern Morrissey and unlike their back-catalogue touches of electronica, samples and such modern trickery. A De La Soul drum pattern here, a twangy banjo section on a loop there, and a song, ‘Life 2.0.’ written almost entirely in geek-speak (Moss from the IT Crowd would love it and should cover it!).
It takes a few listens but its an album that gradually, insidiously, will worm its way into your heart. It really is a classic, beautiful, old-fashioned, yet thoroughly modern, indie LP.
Personally Iâd say that the third song, ‘Dangerous Sports’, stands out. It’s a declaration of love, comparing the highs to the thrills of extreme sports. Its almost an indie-rock equivalent of renewing your marriage vows; the chorus goes; âOnly death will set me free totallyâ, following the beautiful verses…
Iâve never surfed a wave as high as a church
But I held your hand while you gave birth
I canât say which feelings are best
But Iâve never come down from this crest
Iâve never thrown myself off a skyscraper
But Iâve signed my name against yours on paper
And the physical effect of both actions
Is enough to put your heart thru contractions
A Kim Deal bassline, the sharpest of guitar sounds alternating with a great choir-of-heavenly-angels keyboard motif make for an astounding song.
‘The Race is Long, the Going Rough’ is a modern-day, lovelorn but English Modern Lovers with a few odd electronic noises and samples.
‘One More Chance’ reminded me that REM used to cover Wireâs ‘Strange’ and how English bands will always be inspired by American ones and vice-versa and how the cycle will always continue.
A song called ‘Compulsion’ has some monumentally clichÃ©d couplets in the lyrics about “feeling such a failure standing in the rain” and “leaving myself vulnerable again” that is could almost be a Smiths parody, but isnât, and achieves the nigh-impossible feat of actually being a great song nonetheless.
‘Leaves in the Storm’ has a countrified Americana feel before ‘Waiting For the Other Foot to Fall’ goes all pastoral psychedelia with its Doors-y keyboards and lines about âa slow-motion car crash happening in my brainâ.
‘Mid Life Crisis’ is of course self-explanatory lyrically:
My head is thumping like a double kickdrum pedal,
played by a teen thrash-metal band.
My eyes glaze over like the eyes at the fish-counterâ¦
Canât believe Iâm expected to doâ¦
Another forty years
Musically itâs a sheer, laid-back delight, the perfect combination of Morrissey croon, Velvet Underground harmonies and REM twang with a bridge that brings to mind Manfred Manns incidental music from ‘Up The Junction’. Now you really canât get any better than that for Sunday afternoon hangover listening can you?
‘Glass Box’ is more beautifully-captured 40-something angst with a complicated time signature and beautiful Hammond organ.
The closing epic ‘Rites of Spring’ actually sounds a bit like early Charlatans and Inspiral Carpets playing on a song about hayfever and Easter Bunnies insurrecting!
Accrington Stanley have always centered around Dan OâFarrell (guitar/vocals/lyrics) Richard Barrett (keyboards) and Rufus Grig (guitar and Cello) who have been friends since school. A crash-course through their back catalogue proved to me theyâve always had talent on a limited budget and always been stubbornly anti-fashion and refused to compromise. Now in their 27th year as a band theyâve inadvertently produced a work of near genius with the help of a solid rhythm section: David Calais (bass) and Alex Bridge (drums).
With bands like Coldplay and Elbow making music that makes them sound prematurely âoldâ, Accrington Stanley are a far more vibrant and life-affirming proposition and in their prime. For too long theyâve been the best kept secret in indie-dom. A class act who deserve a wider audience.
Check out Accrington Stanely online at their official site.
Words by Ged Babey. More writing by Geb on Louder Than War can be found here.