BEST OF 2013: 27. The Electric Soft Parade – “IDIOTS”

You know when hear something on the radio and have to know what it is immediately? Everything gets dropped and you loiter, waiting for the artist and title to be revealed. Gideon Coe, esteemed music lover and world’s greatest living broadcaster, was covering for Shaun Keaveny on 6 Music’s breakfast show. His evening programme is something I have to ration my exposure to, for fear of incessant want lists, but sometimes I weaken and his early appearance caught me unawares. And so normal service was resumed, as a sun-kissed, melodic strummer caught my attention. It reminded me a little of The Go-Betweens and something else about it was curiously familiar. Whatever it was, I needed to hear it again. And again. I’ll confess that my first reaction upon hearing it was ‘Brother, You Must Walk Your Path Alone’ by The Electric Soft Parade was ‘are they really still going?’ They really are, you know.

It’s been more than a decade since the glorious indie belter ‘Empty At The End’ briefly made this lot the ‘next big thing’. They had a couple of other decent singles around that point but it wasn’t quite to be and, while brothers Alex and Thomas White have continued to put out music at infrequent intervals, fourth album “IDIOTS” arrived with little fanfare. And yet, this really is a noteworthy, beautifully realised record. It’s a beautifully sunny, unashamedly melodic tour de force which pitches up somewhere between a fevered Beatles obsession and a well-loved pile of albums by the afore-mentioned Go-Betweens. Just as Teenage Fanclub have the rare knack of sweetening their songs without making them sickly, ESP happily go through the gears every time, throwing out key changes and layered harmonies like they’ve got an expiry date.
That first single is a great place to start, but the quality is unrelenting. ‘Mr Mitchell’ wears its influences rather more brazenly on its sleeve than other tracks, while ambitious centrepiece ‘The Corner Of Highdown And Montefiore’ should keep Field Music fans happy during their fallow year. Lyrically, the themes are well worn but you have to wonder if this is part of the conscious aping of those who have inspired them. “The sun never shined on me until you came around” may not be a new sentiment, but played out at the heart of a glistening chorus it can subdue the most miserly cynic. Some records make you think, some records redefine whole genres and some, like “IDIOTS”, just make you very happy.

BEST OF 2013: 28. Travis – Where You Stand

Ah, you can sneer if you want to, but this is very possibly the best thing Travis have ever done. Unfairly maligned for favouring gentle melodies and the fragility of Fran Healy’s delicate vocals, they have become something of a synonym for bed-wetter indie. I’m sorry to ruin the lazy narrative, but ‘Where You Stand’ is the sound of a band at the top of their game and is in possession of a whole pile of infectious melodies. I’ll admit that it was with some trepidation that I requested a promo back in early summer, because I really wanted this to be great. I’ve enjoyed chunks of their recent output but had started to wonder if they had a genuinely decent whole album left in them. ‘Something Anything’ from ‘Ode To J Smith’ was wondrously unadorned, whilst ‘Closer’ from ‘The Boy With No Name’ remains a fragile earworm to this day, but they were always cherry-picked from their parents.

As it turned out, ‘Where You Stand’ soundtracked most of July for me, ever-present in the car and never far from the small pile of CDs on one of the speakers in the living room. It’s not a revolutionary record and it is, I’m sure, what many people would call safe – but it’s beautiful. Plain and simple. The notion that Travis only make the same drippy song, over and over again, will no doubt have meant that plenty of people gave this a wide berth. If you’re one of them, clear forty-two minutes and see what you think. There are at least half a dozen punch the air melodies on ‘Where You Stand’, including the title track’s mid-paced affirmation of love and the winningly perky ‘On My Wall’. ‘New Shoes’ has a gorgeous, hiccuping rhythm throughout its chorus that lingers long in the memory even after one listen.

Healy’s voice remains their greatest strength, carefully unfurled and evocatively strained in equal measure. When it soars, as it does on ‘A Different Room’, it’s easy to see how they became so ubiquitous at the turn of the millennium. The euphoric shiver from a song sung well is something music lovers the world over live for, and it’s here in spades. There are still some lyrical weaknesses – they did have a chorus that went ‘if we turn, turn, turn, turn, turn, then we might learn’ remember – but ‘Boxes’ follows a lovely metaphorical premise based around the various ‘boxes’ we occupy from birth to death. Rather unexpectedly, Travis have found their place again. The old logo is back and they’re playing to their strengths – and they have more of them than you might think.