review archive

of Montreal / The Ladybug Transistor / Homescience The Spitz 31st January 2003

Another year, another bunch of Elephant 6 musicians to bamboozle us with their tricksy personnel swapping antics. Just to get things straight, of Montreal include members of Great Lakes, who share a guitarist with Dressy Bessy and who I get confused with The Tyde who include members of Beachwood Sparks, then there’s Marshmallow Coast which is basically of Montreal in a different combination. Not sure where The Ladybug Transistor fit into the scheme of things. Just picture a swirling mass of stripy trousers, swingy hair and beatific grins and forget the logistics.

First up though are Homescience who, refreshingly, are British and not part of a convoluted pachydermal family tree. Three key things we remember about Homescience from last time: the bass player has alarmingly skinny arms; the singer has a whiney voice; the cool girl drummer has an expression of deep concentration. New things we discover about Homescience this time: we enjoy some of the songs; when whiney man sits at the keyboard it all gets a bit Gilbert O’Sullivan (without the hat); there is an alarming use of waltz-time in at least one song making me feel queasy; the final song is really good.

rinky dinky
When we saw The Ladybug Transistor last year, I scribbled some stuff in my notebook. Looking at it now, I find a bit that says, ‘The Ladybug Transistor live in this house’ and then a small crudely drawn square. What the hell does that mean? Man, their odd gingerbread cottage psychedelia must have affected me more than I realised. Tonight, the band is sparkling. Gone are the prim Startrite kids (oh the kneesocks and sandals!) building delicate layers of soothing saccharine sounds, in their place are organ-driven sunshine groovealongs glinting with flares of brass. This time round there’s a little less flute, an instrument guaranteed to add a certain whimsicality to any song (hey, The Datsuns, give it try!) though there is some pleasing woodblock action (a very LBT instrument).

Hairslide and striped blazer girl on keys has a sweet honey voice contrasting with lanky singer man’s deep deadpan vocals which we suddenly realise sound just like Edwyn Collins. Therein lies the key to these charming, tripping tunes. Check out any Ladybug write up and the words psychedelic crops up over and over, but this isn’t pure ‘60s/’70s paisley wibbling, there’s a big fat streak of ‘80s whiteboy soul meets fifties smoothie crooner in amongst the warm woozy chords and sunburst afternoon trumpet. Then there’s the big twangy guitars, plus a country folk feel. Joining the dots of pop!

The Edwyn warble, rinky dinky organ and skewed sugariness sometimes combine to create the impression that you’ve landed in some dusty hotel bar, where this oddball bunch of kids are supplying the muzak and everyone is smiling strangely.

We get the lovely ‘Wooden Bars’ from LP ‘Argyle Heir’ which, in keeping with the dusty hotel theme, has always conjured up images of sipping syrupy liqueurs in a sort of Scandinavian wooden bar, but I realise actually refers to ‘looking out through wooden bars’. So I’m a lush, whatever. From earlier lp ‘The Albemarle Sound’ there’s the swooning lilt of ‘Like A Summer Rain’ and ‘Blue Moon’ soundie-likie ‘Oceans in the Hall’. Other songs are unfamiliar, presumably stuff from the upcoming new LP. A place in the Kitten sound archive has already been reserved for it. I’m still not sure what kind of house The Ladybug Transistor live in, mind.

Folks have come out the woodwork for tonight’s psych-fest. I see faces from the early ‘90s garage scene that I haven’t seen for years, people who used to rock the Carnaby Street chic as displayed by of Montreal’s cheeky chappie singer, but whereas they always came across as a bit spazzy, he can pull off the stripy trousers/baker cap thing because he’s from America and it’s thus sort of sweet. Don’t ask me why, I didn’t invent these rules. knees-uppery
cheeky chappie

The music borrows from the British take on psychedelia, the bands which drew on the English music hall tradition from The Kinks on down to er, Amazing Friendly Apple (from 1969, not an Elephant 6 band, but that name should be revived for an E6 offshoot). It’s full of choppy rhythms and changing time signatures and Syd Barret stream of consciousness wordy lyrics. Sometimes this works in a cheery la la la laa!! way. A lot of it veers towards the irritating madcap knees-uppery this vaudevillian lark can fall into, and you don’t do veering knees-uppery in the East End without summoning up all kinds of horrors. I generally prefer my psychedelia fried on the West Coast.

Then, by way of redemption, of Montreal encore with a storming version of The Creation’s ‘Making Time’, a rough, raucous blast of fresh air from 30 odd years ago.
[top of page]