Pants Yell!

Alison Statton

(Soft Abuse; 2007)

By David Ritter | 30 December 2007

In a time suffused with Radiohead releases and 400,000 sound-alikes, I'm sure as heck glad we have Pants Yell!. They are the anti-Yorke: they don't want to push the envelope, alter your audio perception, or soundtrack your early twenties. They don't challenge or refuse, and they are definitely not a night of drinking absinthe in 1920s Prague. Pants Yell! are a bit of cream on your blueberries, a three-day weekend. If they were more insipid, they'd be that awesome babies-eating-lemons video on YouTube.

That's what I love about Alison Statton, the humility of it. Like Belle and Sebastian without the epic swell, the band serves up brief, fey pop for the days between epiphanies. This won't be your favourite record but that's okay; most of your life is unremarkable too, and these moments need music as much as the rest.

Criticism is ridiculous in the face of all this modesty. My complaints are rebuffed by the rounded edges of Andrew Churchman's voice, the plaintive tone of his guitar. The gentle straight-forwardness of it all confronts my cynicism and retorts, "this is just one of many pop songs by many bands. You're free to love any one you want." Instrumental and textural choices also follow this incidental approach; no moments particularly pine for horns, organ, or glockenspiel, but they breeze in and out just the same. Which is not to say that sonic decisions seem to have been made lightly. It's just that, there is no definitive statement, no final pop moment in which everything culminates into giddy perfection. There is only the again and again of great songs.

Album closer "Two French Sisters" is a knock out, sporting spy-movie lead guitars and a monologue about the disappointment of the work-a-day world. It closes with harmonic irresolution and strings that linger, like melancholy, just too long. The song (and with it the album) resigns itself, in the end, to unending longing: "the sun rises but it also sets / you're not done with me yet." "Reject, Reject" is a pocket anthem for the disaffected. The diminutive track leaves the refrain, "Everywhere you go they're saying 'reject, reject'", fairly unadorned, focusing the listener's sympathies. Sad even at his most upbeat, Churchman gives us bop and catharsis in equal measure. Even everyday memories like, "Remember at graduation, when the guy in the suit said that thing" are sung with a yearning for the recovery of good times long past. His voice is so suited to downheartedness that it's the instrumental passages that have the most lift. The intro to "A New City Life" is a thoroughly buoyant moment, and the female/male vocal doubling that follows obscures Churchman's typical plaintiveness. The horns in "More Purple" jump too, but even they lack the sort of sparkly crackle that characterizes more cheery or hard-hitting pop.

This is no dour affair, however, as the songs bounce and clip along in their unassuming way. Indeed, it's the mix of the gloomy with cheer that makes the album's vignettes poignant, to a point. Yes, with all the riches I am reluctant to discuss limits, but they're here. Alison Statton is contained within its own ambitions. The sound is tender when it could be bold. Churchman wears not his heart (with all its countless palpitations) on his sleeve, but his sense of wistfulness. He bares just a part of himself, writes only tepid loves and Saturday afternoon regrets.

Still, I wouldn't change a note. This is only a paradox if we fool ourselves into thinking that everything should strive toward the new, the raw, the experimental, the earth-shattering. You can only have a handful of my-first-heartbreak records, and a "this is why I listen to music" record comes along once in a lifetime. I like Daydream Nation (1988) as much as the next guy, but when I've spent it all trying to change the world and I return home a little battered, this is what I want to hear. At least, until the next very good pop record comes along.