[18 April 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Gerard Love’s ability to sing in a languorous way over dreamy music should be familiar to any fan of his band Teenage Fanclub, who are now over two decades into their career. Go back and listen, for example, to “Sweet Days Waiting”, my favorite song on their most recent LP, 2010’s Shadows. Think of that approach to pop/rock songwriting as a stretching out of time, like time-lapse photography that captures the flickering rays of the sun. Then take that and stretch it out into an album, and you’ll have Lightships’ Electric Cables, Love’s new solo project, which puts him in front of a band made up of other Scottish musicians, including current Fanclub guitarist Dave McGowan, former Fanclub drummer Brendan O’Hare, Bob Kildea from Belle & Sebastian and Tom Crossley, who played flute with International Airport and the Pastels —including on their great 2009 album with Tenniscoats, Two Sunsets, which, come to think of it, has a similar sound to Electric Cables. Love also played in the touring band to support that album.
The band name Lightships and title Electric Cables seem to speak of electricity, but the body of light most often referred to in the lyrics is the sun – by name, on the songs “The Warmth of the Sun” and “Sunlight to the Dawn” or by inference, on songs like “Every Blossom” and “Photosynthesis”. The natural world is a dominant theme, and natural light is the dominant sound. Listening to Electric Cables, I keep thinking of films where the characters spend most of their time outdoors, on picnics and vacations, letting the filmmaker shoot the way light shines through trees, the way sunshine glows on our skin. I love films like that—Apichatpong Weerasethakul ‘s Blissfully Yours, Eric Rohmer films like Claire’s Knee and La Collectionneuse, Jean Renoir’s Picnic on the Grass and A Day in the Country, the sunlight-heavy, observational films of Trần Anh Hùng (The Vertical Ray of the Sun); the list could go on and on. Electric Cables offers a similar atmosphere. It feels like escape, carefree, and also like the musical equivalent of our own thoughts and observations on an especially pretty day, as we walk through the city, town or countryside.
The music matches that, with layered guitars, relaxing and thinking outdoors. “The Warmth of the Sound” has a pleasant instrumental reverie at the end; “Photosynthesis” has piano, flutes and other instruments wandering around behind Love’s consistently mellifluous voice. This might be described by some critics as psychedelic, because of the way the music emulates the daze of the sun, but the songs themselves aren’t experimental freakouts but simple, daydreaming pop songs. (Note: I write “simple” not as a criticism, but with the utmost of respect and appreciation. Writing ‘simple’ pop songs is an eternal art). The songs are very direct in their descriptions, feelings and melodies. On one song, “Silver and Gold”, Love does sing in a strange light falsetto at first, but at just about every other moment on the album, he does little to obscure what he’s singing and the feelings within the words.
For all the talk of the changing of seasons, of rivers and plants and the role the sun plays in their lives, as a writer Love isn’t a naturalist so much as a romantic. As you might imagine, at its core the album is often about love, about how we express expectation, admiration, hope, longing, pleasure and joy. The third song, and current single, “Sweetness in Her Spark” spells that out, making clear that, like most pop music, these are songs about loved ones and would-be loved ones. They are songs about other people and how we feel about them, songs that reflect our inner conversations with ourselves and other people – imaginary, unsent letters, emails, phone calls and conversations. This is evident before he clearly mentions another person. It’s in the air if not the words. From the start, Electric Cables is all sweetness and light, warmth and comfort. It contains a lingering note of disappointment in life, too, that’s inevitable – but it’s sweet, lovely-sounding disappointment.