The Sharp Things – A Moveable Feast (2007)
purchase this album (Bar/None)
review by Kenn Scott
New York’s The Sharp Things and their new album A Moveable Feast are a little hard to pigeonhole. Which probably makes them damned difficult to market for their indie label Bar/None, but is also probably a good thing for us jefitobloggers looking for something a little different to add to our musical libraries. Let’s check ’em out, shall we?
The Sharp Things are unapologetically a band that looks to the twentieth century for their musical ideas. Those who are wondering exactly which part of the twentieth century will be able to hear a little late ’70s Bowie in the band’s overt theatricality on a track like “An Ocean Part Deux” (download). Others will pounce on the bright, Bacharachesque soul-pop of songs like “What’s The New Girl Wonder” or “Cruel Thing” and draw instant comparisons to Paul Weller. (Lead vocalist Perry Serpa’s voice, while not a dead ringer for Weller’s, has a similar range and intonation to that of The Modfather.)
So, how to label these guys? Well, because they’re interested in exploring the sounds of certain types of structured pop music from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, you could call them a chamber-pop ensemble â€” except that that label overlooks their lyrical content. For The Sharp Things, unlike many other bands labelled ‘pop,’ are fond of juxtaposing the dark lyric and the lightly frosted production technique. (Not for nothing is this album named after a book by a popular author who famously committed suicide.) Opening number “The Jumpers,” for instance, is a creepy number about a jumper off the Tower of London who believes he can fly, and is driven by a string quartet. Other tracks are musically upbeat pop songs about various and sundry losers in life, done up in the tried and true guitar/bass/drums format, and tastefully augmented with strings, bells, horns and layered backing vocals. Which means that those who think the terms ‘indie’ and ‘lo-fi’ are synonymous â€” and that ‘lo-fi’ is often code for ‘we don’t have the skills to do proper production or arrangements’ â€” will be pleased to find that this is one band that’s working hard to fight the stereotype.
Overall, A Moveable Feast works very well; in fact, it’s one of the best new releases I’ve heard this year. It’s engagingly eclectic in terms of both music and lyrical content, yet each track still possesses enough of a “Sharp Things” character that the album easily works together as a whole. All of which means that if ‘pop’ isn’t a dirty word to you â€” as it isn’t to, say, fans of other slightly skewed pop purveyors like Andy Partridge, Martin Newell, Neil Finn, or Mitch Easter â€” then this is definitely a feast worth digging into. â€”KS