The Heavy Blinkers/Orwell
Intercontinental Pop Exchange No. 3
By Scott Reid | 30 January 2004
The International Pop Exchange No. 3 is, surprise surprise, the third in a series of split EPs from the Winnipeg based Endearing label that aims to combine artists (a very high ratio of which are, as you could also guess from the title, indie pop groups) that span across the globe and offer short samplers of both while also having a uniform sound or style. This time around, the EP combines three songs apiece from two chamber pop groups; the Halifax, Nova Scotia five-piece the Heavy Blinkers, who are also signed to Endearing, and the French sextet Orwell.
The opening trio of Heavy Blinkers tracks, only one of which being from their upcoming full length The Night and I Are Still So Young, the other two being exclusive to this release, are nice enough but are far from the best they have to offer. That said, “Maplewood” and “Tribute to Sparrow” sound like logical extensions of the Brian Wilson influenced sound they’ve been developing since their debut and though they lack the immediacy found on their best tracks like “Rise and Glide” (from their excellent self-titled record), “Helicopter Blues” and “I Used to Be a Design” (both from their previous album, Better Weather, which remains one of the maritimes’ best kept secrets) the mesmerizing attention to production detail helps to make up for the lack of memorable melodies. “Tribute to Sparrow” is especially effective and probably should’ve replaced “Try Telling That To My Baby” on Night’s line-up. The last Blinkers track, “Veranda Celeste,” is a short High Llamas-esque (not surprisingly, O’Hagan has been vocal about his admiration for this group) instrumental that’s far from terrible, but makes little sense on a split EP like this, especially as the sole selection from Night; the stunning title track or “In the Morning” would’ve made far more sense.
Then there’s the likeminded Orwell, who kick things off to a promising start with “Everywhere,” and while the production isn’t nearly as interesting as the Blinkers’ Wilson-isms, the melody is confident and, during the chorus at least, memorable. “Attic’s Ballad,” another short instrumental which was written specifically for this EP, opens with an Air-like electronic rumble that is quickly, and unfortunately, covered with a flute that is prominent throughout the song, completely drowning the slightly interesting instrumentation underneath. “Monorail (Version 1900)” ends things off and is sung entirely in French, which really makes no difference, but honestly it’s the only thing you’re likely to remember about it once it’s over.
So, for an EP that clocks in at under twenty minutes, there’s far too much filler (two short and confusingly vacant instrumental tracks) to speak well of either act, especially Orwell; The Heavy Blinkers, the only reason this EP is remotely recommendable, once again prove themselves of being incredibly proficient at what they do (and what they do rarely changes), but Orwell do little with these three tracks to stir interest and make the latter half a tedious listen. The international pop exchange is an interesting idea, combining likeminded groups from across the world with minimal distribution, but as a product—in this case, at least—it’s just a celebration of mediocre pop and that seems awfully redundant.