Lost Classics: The Indie-Pop Underground

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

lucksmiths375While Belle And Sebastian’s success may have popularized some of twee pop’s signature clichés—jangling guitars, gentle vocals and an affectation of childlike naiveté—it was subsurface groups such as the Lucksmiths (pictured), Tullycraft and Trembling Blue Stars that, along with flag-flying labels Matinée, Magic Marker and even Sub Pop, helped to expand the genre’s stereotypical barrettes-and-kittens borders. Like attention-starved sibling emo, twee has become increasingly maligned by its makers.

“I always see the term as derogatory and a fairly lazy way to characterize indie pop for those who aren’t very familiar with it,” says Jimmy Tassos, owner of the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Matinée.

“(Trembling Blue Stars singer/guitarist) Robert (Wratten) would be appalled to be described as twee,” says Matt Haynes, co-founder of the U.K.’s Sarah Records. “He wrote the songs he wanted to write, and his influences were more Factory Records than C86.”

Listening to TBS’s third album, 2000’s Broken By Whispers, it’s difficult to deny Wratten’s twee-pop roots. Bassist Michael Hiscock and keyboardist Annemari Davies lent “Ripples” and “To Leave It Now” their fleshed-out, flashback feel. It was Wratten’s beautifully drowsy voice, however, that ultimately turned Whispers’ intimate lyrics into an 11-shade spectrum of gray.

Decidedly extroverted, Seattle’s Tullycraft took a punk approach to its indie-pop aesthetic. The chorus of 2002’s “Fuck me, I’m twee!” was the refrain that launched a thousand T-shirts, and 2000 anthem “Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend Is Too Stupid To Know About” encapsulated an entire music scene in a single song. On 2005’s Disenchanted Hearts Unite, Tullycraft dropped the absurdity, and its appeal went into overdrive. Singing “We’re the best band you never heard!” as if there was never any doubt, Sean Tollefson’s nasal vocals were at once brash and bratty; Jenny Mears’ pointed “ah-ah”s and “la-la”s softened things ever so slightly; and together they made “Rumble With The Gang Debs” sound like a group of kids covering the Violent Femmes.

“People fight this term to the bitter end, claiming over and over that they aren’t twee,” says Curt Kentner, owner of Portland, Ore.’s Magic Marker Records. “What looks better: complaining that you aren’t twee or championing it like Tullycraft?”

The Green Bicycle Case // Candle, 1995

While most twee bands embodied overcast English winters, the eternally sunny Lucksmiths were a cloudless Australian afternoon. The effervescent Melbourne trio introduced its bubbling rhythms and witty wordplay on early lo-fi records but refined its approach on The Green Bicycle Case. An endearing mix of danceable pop songs and down-tempo ballads, the album abdicated twee’s security blanket without abandoning its wide-eyed wonder. Name-checking Rita Hayworth while slyly nudging Sgt. Pepper on “Only Angels Have Wings,” frontman Tali White’s conversational tenor resembled a more tuneful, Victorian-tongued John Darnielle.

“The Tichborne Claimant”: