[25 May 2004]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Whenever I see an album like Sekiden’s Junior Fiction for the first time, I always get an urge to groan in despair. Yes, another in a seemingly endless parade of bubbly indie pop, where every CD bears the same indie pop characteristics. Cute album cover? Sad-looking doodle animal in front of an x-ray machine, which shows a broken heart… check. Cute song titles? “S-T-A-Y”, “1+1=Heartache”, “Pinball Summer”... check. Tons of Weezer-style, downstrummed guitars? Heavy doses of ‘80s style synthesizer? Loads and loads of background harmonies, specifically of the “ooh” and “aah” variety? Cute female co-vocalist? Check, check, check, and, yeah, check. Running time of no more than half an hour? Ch-wait. 73 minutes?
When you have to sit through such an obvious cutie-pie album like this, you’re praying for nothing but hooks. Who cares about everything else? A record like this has to be instantly gratifying; if it doesn’t grab you on the first listen, it’s a lost cause. Nothing’s worse than a lousy indie pop record; when a band is trying to cute, but the melodies just aren’t there, the end result is disastrous. Thankfully, with this particular CD, it doesn’t take five minutes before you realize that it’s a winner. But again, I reiterate, a running time of 73 minutes?
Sekiden have been wooing audiences with their exuberant music in their native Australia since 1998. After recording two EPs, the Brisbane trio, comprised of Singer/guitarist Simon Graydon, drummer Mirko Vogel, and his sister Seja on vocals and synthesizer, released their debut album Junior Fiction in 2003, which was met with very positive reviews in their homeland. The band have proven to be relentless when it comes to touring, as they’ve already crossed North America several times, and thanks to a new distribution deal in North America, Junior Fiction is now here to charm its way into the cockles of your indie-lovin’ hearts.
Seriously, this is a good little album, a no-frills romp through some of the bubbliest, sunniest tunes we’ve heard since the last New Pornographers album. And whaddya know, but those three cute song titles I mentioned just a minute ago, are three of the album’s best. Opening with a buoyant little synth line that sounds lifted straight from 1982, “1+1=Heartache” echoes perfectly the slick powerpop of Weezer’s Green album, as Graydon sings about going to the city with a girl so pretty (yeah, that’s about as deep as the lyrics get here), yet is so paralyzed by his Rivers Cuomo-like geekiness, he can’t put the moves on the girl, as the song quickly climaxes in the chorus, “Gotta take some painkillers for my heart.” “S-T-A-Y” is just as silly, but is more guitar-driven, as Seja takes over the lead vocals, singing in her cute, flat voice, “I love/L-O-V-E/But you don’t/D-O-N-T”... you know how the rest of the song will go (yeah, there’s even the voice of a Speak & Spell), but when it’s so fun and so catchy, who cares? The jubilant “Pinball Summer” has Graydon singing about love at the arcade, but despite lacking the wit of, say, Joey Ramone, he keeps things simple, as the song redeems itself in an inexplicable middle eight that actually involves some do wop vocal harmonies.
There are really no weak tracks on Junior Fiction, but it’s nothing earth-shattering, either. The raucous “All Ordinaries” sounds inspired by the Buzzcocks, while “Autumn Glass”, “BNE”, and especially the wistful “Answering Machine” echo Fountains of Wayne, minus Adam Schlesinger’s trademark cleverness. The album’s biggest surprise lies in “Pulsewidth”, a song that has Sekiden going completely electro, Seja and Simon’s vocals awash in a wave of Gary Numan style layers of synths, before the guitars come in briefly during the choruses, proving that despite their minimal, retro style, the band is capable of creating something awfully pretty.
Back to that 73 minute running time, though. Thankfully, the album’s 11 songs run for little more than 30 minutes (okay, so check that one, too), but what follows is one of the more audacious hidden tracks you’ll ever hear, as random synth bloops and bleeps carry on for a staggering 45 minutes, which will obviously infuriate at anyone who either wants to burn the CD for a friend or rip into MP3s. Such a cheeky stunt reminds me of another indie pop characteristic that Sekiden have down perfectly: a terrific sense of humor.