Most bands that manage to stay together for over a decade tend to get stagnant, stale, boring, tedious. Their later releases are marred either by overly-magnified expectations set by stellar earlier efforts (which can even lead to a depressing mimicry of past glories or, more humiliating, unintentional self-parody), or stray so far from the strengths of the band in an attempt to overtly go in “new directions” that they end up confusingly adrift.
Marine Research has been together for a year, maybe two, and their debut LP Sounds From The Gulf Stream is, pardon the stretched pun, not unlike a fresh breeze of tropical air.
The kicker is that the core of Marine Research, vocalist Amelia Fletcher and “indie-pop” legend guitarist Peter Momtchiloff, have been in bands together since 1986, starting with seminal girl-punk-pop combo Talulah Gosh, and that four of the five ‘Researchers’, Fletcher, Momtchiloff, bassist Rob Pursey and keyboardist/vocalist Cathy Rogers, have been playing together since 1990 as K Records darlings Heavenly. Indeed, the only member of Heavenly not in Marine Research is Ameila’s brother Matthew Fletcher, who passed away in 1996.
Much as Heavenly was a reinterpretation of Talulah Gosh (lose the punk edge, keep the spunky attitude, bring even more of the pop hooks to the table), so is Marine Research a reinterpretation of Heavenly. Same ingredients, different amounts, stir ‘em up, still bouncy and sweet and sincere, without being cloying in the least.
Somehow, over the course of Fletcher and Momtchiloff’s various collaborations, they’ve managed to keep the core of the creative process intact, unlike most of those dinosaur bands that should have called it a day years ago. Sounds From the Gulf Stream is NOT another Heavenly album, but hearing it you can’t not know who’s playing these wonderful songs. Listening to Sounds From the Gulf Stream is like a cartoon character discovering the third dimension. If Heavenly was a beautiful painting, Marine Research is a sculpture. Momtchiloff’s guitars and Rogers’s keyboards exist symbiotically on this record—neither overpowers the other. Indeed, here’s a depth present in Sounds From the Gulf Stream that never existed in the world according to Heavenly, not only musically, but lyrically too. The undeniable buoyancy of the melodies belies the strong melancholy undercurrent to the record, as Fletcher addresses brother Matthew’s death (a tragic suicide) in two of the most cathartic pop songs I’ve heard since I don’t know when, “Hopefulness To Hopelessness” and “At The Lost and Found”.
Sounds From the Gulf Stream is this year’s pure pop gem, and maybe last year’s too. Can 13-year independent pop veterans make a credible record about staying young? “Yes, Yes, Yes”!