Minimalism and subtlety aren't words that are often used to describe indie pop. Jingle-jangle guitars,\n\ heart-on-sleeve lyrics, bouncy ...
Minimalism and subtlety aren't words that are often used to describe indie pop. Jingle-jangle guitars, heart-on-sleeve lyrics, bouncy pop melodies, or even post-Spector/MBV washes of sound are typically the bricks and mortars of that sound. Hitting the nail on the head or getting up and/or creating sounds to bop around the room to is fine and all, but at times, graceful tones and small gestures can be more riveting. The debut album by The Relict, a loose collective built around the gentle songwriting of former Clientele man Innes Phillips, captures that sometimes elusive hazy, textural charm.
Functioning more as a loose group of friends and collaborators than a full-time band, The Relict features vocal performances from a who's who of intelligent pop front people: The Clientele's Alasdair MacLean, Pipas' Lupe N\xB7\xD2ez-FerxB7ndez, Pam Berry (The Pines, Glo-Worm, Black Tambourine), and Abigail Marvell, as well as Phillips himself. The Relict's debut, Tomorrow Is Again, is the culmination of years of work, featuring six tracks which appeared on the group's low-key 7" releases over the past four years-- "Southern Way" (which was recorded at the same session as The Clientele's glorious "Reflections After Jane" / "An Hour Before the Light" double A-side), "Along the Avenue", "Held in Glass", "Childlike", "I Saw Your Eyes", and "Letters"-- as well as six previously unreleased songs. A well-selected batch, the only largely regrettable omission is "Out of Time" which appeared on a Johnny Kane split single with Below the Sea.
Phillips' songwriting shares a number of qualities with MacLean's. It's an enveloping, nuance-filled sound that paints pictures yet seems to present them in either different states of completion or to cast alike images in various shades of light. Which isn't to say The Relict's songs sounds like sketches-- these are fully formed tracks, heartfelt and evocative but in a spacious, windswept way that invites the listener to fill in the contextual details or to attach his or her own associations.
The Relict are at their best when they shade closest to the woozy autumnal melancholy of The Clientele. It's then that Phillips' dexterity as a songwriter is best revealed and his propensity for highlighting slight movements in tone, mood, and pitch is most effective. The removal of elements from typical indie pop structures allows him to relish in the empty space, to let a chime or chord or moment linger, compounding the record's faraway, 8mm feel without sacrificing its delicacy or elegance. As a result, a track like "Time Spent with You" lingers and hovers like the memory of its titular moments and "Held in Glass" perfectly balances the contradictions of its protagonists, actively seeking to interact with their world but still feeling trapped, restricted, and ultimately alone.
As with any record that seeks to sort of gently lull and woo, Tomorrow Is Again risks drifting from the speakers and never making a connection with its listener. Pastoral and haunting, The Relict's charms are subtle but not slight. The song's charms and the emotions they capture are more like a single ray peeking through the clouds than a bright sun-- welcome not only because they're rare and coveted, but also because it feels somehow as if they're potentially fleeting and fluid. So when MacLean sings, "I'll always remember your smile," on "Letters", it's either bitter or sweet-- it just depends on whether his sky is cloudy or not.