Wednesday, September 18, 2013

WMP Nominees - Euros Childs

There are twelve albums in the running for this year's Welsh Music Prize. When the shortlist was announced, I was only familiar with Neon Neon's Praxis Makes Perfect, but I've been atoning for my ignorance by working my way through the other eleven. Keep track of my progress here.

There's a lot of pressure on Summer Special here. Not just because Euros Childs is one of the bigger names on the shortlist, but also because this is the album that my mystery commenter, having rubbished Neon Neon's claim to Welshness, pledged his support for a couple of weeks ago. Personally, I was a little concerned that an album called Summer Special would lose some of its sunny appeal when heard in mid-September, when the afternoons are wet and the evenings are dark.

I needn't have worried. After all, this summer album was made by a Welshman, and Summer Special has, strangely enough, revealed itself to be a rather lovely rainy day record. This joke finds its punchline on Painting Pictures of Summer:

"I spend my days painting pictures of summer, sometimes it rains and sometimes there's thunder...mum says, 'Come out of the shed and stop complaining, life is beautiful even when it's raining'...looks like a piece of shit to me."

To these ears, Summer Special sounds like it was made for September. It's perfect for this back-to-school time of year; some of these songs seem like they should be sung in the school hall, elderly teaching assistant dutifully pressing away at piano keys in the corner. Whether it's the wind band coda of That's Better or the cute naivety of Skipping and Dancing, there's a rather sweet 'class assembly' feel going on here. Heck, Clap a Chan sounds like the sort of song a primary school teacher would use to teach kids Welsh.

(I should point out at this juncture that I am by no means a Welsh speaker. For all I know, Clap a Chan could be a tongue-in-cheek dissertation on the life and times of Jackie Chan, complete with throaty bilingual wordplay on the great man's surname. I've no idea.)

So Summer Special, in summary, is a bit of a treat. It's a simple pleasure, childish and charming, with only the faintest stink of rock 'n' roll anarchy about it.

But... it better than Praxis Makes Perfect?

I don't think so. Summer Special certainly isn't an LP without depth - gems like Headphone Mona and These Dreams of You (two of my favourites) have a delicious yearning about them, and That Good Old Fashioned Feeling makes "heartache and pain" sound nostalgic and pleasant. But a couple of tracks really let the side down, namely Roogie Boogie and Good Feeling. The former is simply irritating, while the latter has a terribly clunky refrain that does nothing for me at all. He should have just covered the Violent Femmes song, I reckon he'd nail that.

I'm not even that keen on Be Be High, which is both the opening track and one of the singles. It's catchy, sure, but while I don't want to come across as some unsmiling killjoy, I'd happily trade it for another slightly sad love song like These Dreams of You.

So Neon Neon are still my main men, at least for the time being. Next week, I'll be ruminating on Ships by Sweet Baboo - come back on Wednesday to find out what I make of it.

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