erasing clouds

The EP Lives! Matinee Recordings
(Northern Portrait, The Electric Pop Group, Bubblegum Lemonade, Strawberry Whiplash)

by dave heaton

Leave it to indie-pop stalwarts Matinee Recordings to keep the EP going strong as a format, even if now it's all CD-EPs instead of vinyl. There's something unexplainable, really magical, about putting on a great short recording, where songs captivate you and then disappear. Even better if there's eye-catching artwork, a memorable photo or graphic image. So far this year Matinee has released four EPs by newer bands, keeping that mystique going while building their roster of bands with a genuine grasp on the art of crafting a song plus an equally strong awareness of pop/rock music history.

The Electric Pop Group is an unexceptional band name for such an exceptional band. In a way it fits, though, because they don't stand out for barrier-breaking as much as for fitting so well into a larger tradition of smart, sensitive-melodic songwriting and playing. Hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden, the band is fronted by songwriter Erik Aamot, who has an ear for both tunes and human situations, placing the universal cycles of love and heartbreak in an everyday-life setting. That's on display right from the romantic first track, "I Could See the Lights", which memorably sets a scene of infatuation: "And you told me about all the things / that have happened in your life / how you were falling out of love / Well, I was falling in". Just as strong, with a more severe demeanor and excellent, especially expressive singing by Aamot, is the second track "This Is the Town", about that push-pull of hometowns. They're nicely rounded out with two more great, if more low-key, tracks that leave you with the feeling that the Electric Pop Group have great things ahead of them.

Like the Electric Pop Group, and Matinee artists in general, Copenhagen, Denmark's Northern Portrait is clearly taking their cues from classic pop-rock groups of the past. After looking at the cover of their EP, you get one guess, and one guess alone, at one of the bands standing at the front of Northern Portrait's influence queue. Let's see…the cover has the same color scheme as The Queen Is Dead, and the EP title is "The Fallen Aristocracy"? If that doesn't do it, some Morrissey-ish vocal inflections on the first track. Then again, that song, "Crazy", really sounds very little like the Smiths when you get down to it, and is insanely catchy, one of those ridiculous tunes that just won't quit. Influence here is foundation more than distraction. The Fallen Aristocracy pairs musically light pop tunes with more dour ones, and all four are shot through with melancholy. By its very nature, "Crazy" can't help but overshadow the others, but that's no jab. An EP with one A-side and three B-sides, but no less enjoyable for it.

Earlier in the year, Matinee released EPs by two new, related Glasgow pop groups. Strawberry Whiplash's Who's In Your Dreams tints a guitar red on the cover, an appropriately bright, fun image. The title track is pure ear candy, with singer Sandra bouncing through ba-ba-ba melodies while Laz, who plays all the instruments, turns up the noise quotient with the guitar, balancing things out nicely. "It Rains on Other Planets" picks up the task next, followed by the sweet "My Day Today". Both feel still like perfect A-sides, making it easy to imagine a Strawberry Whiplash album of non-stop hits. Closer "Factory Girl" slows the pace down and plays up the retro factor a little. Strawberry Whiplash do sound retro in a way, looking back to the '60s as much as to the '80s. But they also sound absolutely fresh, with dynamite songs to put some sunshine on your day.

Multi-talented Laz from Strawberry Whiplash is also Bubblegun Lemonade. Their EP Ten Years Younger is less snazzy maybe, more humble in intent (think JAMC blasting from convertibles, instead of polka-dot dance parties), but just as strong in songwriting and performance, from the great bittersweet title track through to the closing cover of "That Thing You Do!", Adam Schlesinger's song from the film of the same name. In the film that song was a breakout, top-of-the-charts hit. With Bubblegum Lemonade, as with so many other bands on Matinee's roster, it's easy, and enjoyable, to lean back near a good set of speakers and dream that they're the same sort of hit records, that "the kids" everywhere are loving these songs, shrieking with pleasure every time they come on the AM card radio.


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