This review originally featured on The Quietus.
From the promise and potential of debut release Cake in 1990, with its faultless first single ‘Obscurity Knocks’, through two more brilliant records in the ’90s, the Trashcan Sinatras never garnered the recognition they deserved. Whilst contemporaries went on to gain greater exposure, the Trashcans’ brand of intelligent, melodic guitar pop was cherished by a core following (primarily in the US, UK and Japan) but continually failed to reach a wider audience.
Following their third album, 1996’s A Happy Pocket, the group was dropped by label Go! Discs, meaning they had to sell their Shabby Road studios (bought with the initial advance for Cake) and declare bankruptcy. AHP should have been a beacon of witty guitar gems amidst a flood of bland, laddish Britpop, but its American distributor refused to release the record Stateside, passing the band’s biggest market by.
The Ayrshire group’s future was uncertain, and they maintained a relative silence until into the next decade, aside from contact with a small but intensely devoted set of fans via early interaction with the internet. They released collections of b-sides and rarities and continued to perform live and tour occasionally. Gigging picked up into the noughties, and notable UK shows with the likes of Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura recognised the importance of the Trashcans in the continuing evolution of Scottish indie pop.
In 2004, Weightlifting was born. It was a triumphant comeback – the jubilant sound of a band removing the shackles of a leaden past. Released on now defunct New York indie label spinART, it was an incredible return – joyous, reflective, poetic, melodic and beautiful. Its impact on the audience it deserved was a ripple, despite support from the likes of Gideon Coe, presenter at the then fledgling digital radio station, BBC 6Music.
Five years later saw the release of In The Music; a wondrous, loved-up affair, once again awash with the songwriting strengths of guitarists John Douglas and Paul Livingston, and lead singer Francis Reader. Despite more palpable critical acclaim, it too was largely ignored. There were successful US and Japanese tours, live albums and the like, but the group’s future was more dubious than ever with marriage and moves across the Atlantic, and John Douglas struggling with serious illness.
To the delight of fans, 2014 saw the announcement through social media of a PledgeMusic campaign to get new Trashcans material out in to the world. They easily exceeded their target – thanks to some interesting extras in the form of personal guitar lessons from Livingston and bedtime story reading from Reader – but of course they were plagued with problems and delays. Wild Pendulum, the group’s sixth LP, was finally released to pledgers in the spring of this year. The band extensively toured North America and announced one-off concerts in Glasgow, Dublin and London for November – the first ‘homecomings’ since 2009.
From the first bars of opener ‘Let Me Inside (Or Let Me Out)’ it’s clear the Trashcan Sinatras have bolstered their sonic palette, with multiple orchestral layers adorning Reader’s impeccable as ever vocal. It is a self-assured, seize-the-day anthem, cloaked in the kind of majestic instrumentation befitting the best old-school Disney soundtracks.
The euphoria of ‘Best Days On Earth’ bursts through flawless pop perfection before ‘Autumn’ sways and swells like a stormy sea, with filmic flourishes dancing around a menacing tone. There’s unabashed, misty-eyed romance in the twinkling waltz of ‘I Want To Capture Your Heart’, replete with whistling solo, followed by disco dancefloor handclaps in ‘All Night’ featuring the chipper brass of Herb Alpert’s ‘The Lonely Bull’.
‘What’s Inside The Box’ and ‘Waves (Sweep Away My Melancholy)’ are laden with the cinematic richness of the band’s lauded cover of ‘To Sir, With Love’, but swelled to burst. The Trashcans aren’t strangers to dabbling in such soundscapes but this record basks in full, glorious Technicolor.
Both ‘The Family Way’ and ‘I’m Not The Fella’ are like beautiful Broadway interludes, but it’s the delicately understated album closer ‘I See The Moon’ that is particularly breathtaking. It is silver reflections upon still waters – our protagonist is celestially drawn to his object of desire, pondering the million to one chance of finding a love to share in the latter half of life.
The involvement once again of Simon Dine (Adventures In Stereo, Paul Weller), who was responsible for signing TCS to Go! Discs in the late ’80s, has injected musical grandeur that manages to skirt pomposity, whilst producer Mike Mogis (of Bright Eyes) ensures the core of the typically impressive songwriting isn’t lost in such a dense mix.
Few bands have endured the continual setbacks that the Trashcan Sinatras have and carried on finding a way to release remarkable records. Around three decades on from their formation they somehow live to tell the tale, producing their most elegant and textured work yet. Their music may well never ascend the heights it should, but theirs is a legacy so graceful that wider recognition barely matters. Wild Pendulum soars with the sounds of a band comfortable in their own skin, free of past pressures and ready to celebrate the present in magnificent style.