The Wave Pictures - "My Head Gets Screwed On Tighter Every Year" (Long Black Cars)
The Wave Pictures are an impressively prolific British pop trio. Their website offers up a lengthy discography for consideration, some of the components boasting impressively low-tech cover designs. They’re also tight with folks like John Darnielle, Nick Lowe and Herman Dune; consider their smart-pop bona fides pretty well-established at this point. Long Black Cars finds them refining their tone a bit more: albums like 2008’s Instant Coffee Baby had a rough-hewn aspect to their charm, but there’s a greater restraint audible here as soon as Jonny Helm’s precise drumbeats enter the mix.
This isn’t to say that Long Black Cars exemplifies a particularly stripped-down sound, musically speaking. There’s a breakdown in “Never Go Home Again” in which an intricately-picked guitar takes over, and “We Will Cut Them Down In The Passes” has an early-’90s Billy Bragg quality to both its folk-rooted melody and its lyrics’ gentle pokes at militaristic clichés. The influence of Edwyn Collins looms even larger here. Singer/guitarist David Tattersall couples a wry detachment with a melancholy croon; it’s a familiar combination, but one that works.
That familiar approach yields powerful results when delivering lyrics that dodge expectations. Consider the nightmarish image that opens “Seagulls” — the sort of seaside pastoral gone horrific that echoes Ann Quin’s surreal novel Berg. Even as Tattersall’s vocals get anguished, there’s a bright, energetic melody channeled through the guitar that serves as its counterpoint. In the end, it’s these small, jarring moments that help elevate Long Black Cars beyond one specific tradition and into its own weird, charming realm. This album doesn’t reinvent the sound, nor does it subvert it — but on its own modest terms, it provides a concentrated dose of smart, verbose pop. Sometimes, it’s the simple pleasures that work the best.