A fortuitous meeting between the Minders’ chief songwriter, British ex-pat Martyn Leaper and Apples in Stereo leader Robert Schneider led to the release of the Minders first EP on Schneider’s Elephant 6 label; and subsequently one of the first things mentioned about the band is that they are part of the “Elephant 6 collective”. I wonder, at this point, if it helps a band to have a reviewer mention any Elephant 6 connections they may have, and not only because it attaches to them the stigma of faded hype. (Which is one of the reasons why, I suspect, Beulah downplayed their affiliation while making the promotion rounds for Yoko, hoping instead that it’s not too late to bandwagon Wilco.) While admittedly oversimplifying things, to me, the Elephant 6 tag has always had the following connotations: 1) The band in question will impose psychedelia on me with awkward, unpredictable song structures, inside-joke lyrics, and a preponderance of ‘wacky’ marching band and orchestra instruments played with 14th-chair competency. 2) To prove their music’s organically grown, the band in question will favor low fidelity production, which will only intensify the cacophonous clutter of their overstuffed arrangements. 3) The band in question will be fixated on the ‘60s, meaning I’ll probably be better off listening to the Fairfield Parlour, Blossom Toes, Left Banke, and Tomorrow records I already have (not to mention anything the Beatles recorded after they started smoking pot). All the so-called Elephant 6 bands are better than that when taken individually, but taken collectively, a lowest-common-denominator phenomenon sets in that makes all of them seem less imaginative than they really are.
On The Future’s Always Perfect, the Minders are certainly better than my stereotypes would make them out to be. Their debt to sixties pop is evident, but they aren’t subsumed by their influences: ultimately you can’t attach an era to harmonies, la-la refrains, shrewdly conceived backing vocals, or symbiotic verse-chorus structures. At his best, as on “It’s So Hard or Go Wave Your Wand”, Leaper makes his songs seem effortless, inevitable, impossible to imagine any other way than how they are. A more striking and specific reference point, noticeable particularly on the anthemic “Here Goes Nothing”, is Guided by Voices; not only does The Future’s Always Perfect have the same homemade quality that GBV’s mid-‘90s classics had (it was recorded in their own studio in Portland, Oregon), but Leaper even sounds a bit like Robert Pollard, only Leaper’s accent is presumably authentic. The Minders rock in a much more straightforward way than I’ve ever associated with Elephant 6 bands, Leaper confidently tears into the hooks without any coyness, glibness, or introversion, never having to tease anything saccharine out of his voice to try to make them fly.
The Future's Always Perfect
US: 18 Nov 2003
UK: Available as import
But the album’s most definitive characteristic is its use of vintage organs, which are effectively deployed to give each song not only its own distinctive melody line but its own particular sound, as keyboardist Rebecca Cole manages to coax out a variety of flavors from her equipment, running the gamut from Rick Wakeman cheese to Silver Apples sine-wave oscillation to Music Machine garage angst to ‘80s synth pop. The organ is so predominant that on “Hahaha”, sung by Cole with a deadpan girlish naivete, the band runs the risk of coming across like the Rentals, who despite having a few charming songs, made the vintage thing feel like a one-dimensional gimmick, a straightjacket confining them to a single songwriting style. But the Minders don’t fall into the trap: On “28x”, another of Cole’s vocal turns, they cross a metronomic Young Marble Giants verse with a Cars-like break and solo worthy of Curved Air or Focus. In other words, a breadth of ideas are revealed in the nuances of these songs; they aren’t coasting solely on the novelty of the noises their machines can make.
With its eight songs running only about 26 minutes, The Future’s Always Perfect can’t really bear the dead weight of “Jealous Baby”, a plodding downbeat exercise featuring awkwardly rudimentary piano and drum machine parts. But if the strongest complaint that can be raised against an album is that it’s too short, then the band’s done pretty well.
// Notes from the Road
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