Monday, November 16, 2009

Underrated Bands

Trashcan Sinatras

Two of my very favourite bands of all time, perhaps not so coincidentally, come from Scotland.  Trashcan Sinatras and Teenage Fanclub.  Without doing a full inventory in this post for all the amazing Scottish pop bands, there is clearly a guitar pop gene that seems to roam freely through northern UK, and both of those bands have it in spades.  In their respective early to mid 90's heydays, the two bands were both rooted in guitar pop, but attacked it from very different angles.  In recent years they seem to have arrived at a more similar vibe, with the Fannies dialing back their trademark distortion, and the Trashcans re-embracing their jingle jangle sweet spot.  TF would likely ring more bells among the slightest of music nerds, but if TCS tweak any memories at all, it would be for their far too often forgotten mark on the years that led to the peak 90's BritPop period.

I was introduced to The Trash Can Sinatras (as they were coined at the time, prior to the recent abbreviated version of their title), buy a work colleague in and around 1994-95 and soon had their brilliance confirmed and reiterated by the young woman who would become my wife.  Of the thousands of reasons for which I knew she was special, her taste in music and this band in particular may have placed top ten.  What is unfortunate, is just how many people have never and will never get to hear how fantastic these guys are.  To this point, the Trashcans are not some obscure indie band that would work for only very selective ears.  This is music your parents could enjoy easily if you didn't tell them what it was, while never treading into a campiness you might otherwise associate with music that fits that bill.  You can describe their music safely as "beautiful" or "gorgeous" without drumming up images of James Blunt followed closely by images of me setting him on fire as he dives off a cliff naked, engulfed in glorious flames.

Wow.  That can't be healthy.  Sorry James.  Although I might suggest you stop making bad music and creepy videos where you disrobe without context, and people won't want to set you on metaphorical fire.

So yeah, Trashcan Sinatras make clever and very pretty jingle jangle pop music with lush strings and hooks aplenty.  Like a select group of bands in this genre, what makes them most special to me is how absolutely unapologetic they are for their unrelenting approach to melody and listenability.  Many an aspiring guitar pop band have started out with a wonderful jingle jangle song, only to get caught up in machismo or prevailing trends, resulting in knee jerk cliched distortion.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for fuzzed out riffs over pop hooks (old Teenage Fanclub), but sincerity always wins the race.  The Trashcans have never made any concessions for their sound.  The Smiths influence is still there is you think about it enough, but the band truly has evolved into one with their own signature sound and trademark brand.

Part of why TCS seem to have largely fallen just short of the radar for many is a combination of bad luck and timing.  With their debut, Cake, being released in 1990 they sort of pre-date BritPop's stride years.  As their third album, A Happy Pocket, was being released in 1996, their North American distributor decided not to release the album.  Any momentum they had was stalled with this business challenge and the general ascendence of grunge.  By 2000 their label was bought by Universal and they were subsequently dropped.  Shocker.  Bankruptcy ensued, and it took until 2004 for them to get all the pieces back together and release Weightlifting.  I think there may have been another business issue with spinART, their licensing company, but with In The Music coming out this year, it seems they may finally have found a good spot musically and hopefully financially.  Core fans also seem to have stuck with them.  A true testament given how long we've had to wait for new TCS music on occasion (well worth it).

I'm glad these gents have been able to work through adversity so they could continue sharing their fabulous music with those of us that are listening.  I hope more people will discover them, either on-line or in the used CD bins where they unfortunately reside semi-frequently.  It's safe to say that anyone who found Trashcan Sinatras along the way are still very much diehard fans.  It's also safe to say there's a young woman who still has amazing taste in music, and introducing me to this band was one of the best gifts ever for a music nerd who already thought he knew all the great bands.