The Beatnik Filmstars like to fancy themselves as a British equivalent of Guided by Voices, and although there are some similarities between the Filmstars and Robert Pollard’s iconic rock group, I happen to find the cross-pond comparison trite and a bit of a stretch. The two bands exist in a similar vein of lo-fi rock, and both display an extensive catalogue of four-track material, but the Filmstars low-budget garage rock just doesn’t stack up to the prolific stature of GBV. There is an appealing aspect to the Filmstars delivery — which, at times, sounds like a meandering mishmash of separate styles — but the lack of coherency ultimately leaves you befuddled and a bit disappointed.
So who are these cheeky Brits anyway? Since forming in the early ’90s, the Filmstars have released a bevy of records, befriended the legendary John Peel, and eventually toured America with the Flaming Lips. However, the Filmstars are still relatively obscure compared to indie-rock behemoths Pavement and Sebadoh — two additional bands the Filmstars would like to equate themselves with.
Barking (A Collection of Oddities) is a 31-track sample of what these eccentric lo-fi rockers are all about; a smorgasbord of vintage punk riffs, melodic indie rock, infectious dance grooves and experimental interludes. There are some delectable pop-punk selections like “New Boyfriend and Black Suit”, a delightful tune with a hop-a-long riff that crescendos into a cascading horn section toward the end. The grammatically incorrect, “These is Rotten Days”, gives us some standard indie rock while the melancholy, “The Pieces of My Heart” sounds like the mellowed out Brit-equivalent of American alt-country. The Filmstars even provide some mixtape material with the mildly danceable syth-laden tune, “The Family That Stays Together”, and the techno flavor of “Jesus is Coming, Look Busy”. There are a couple of short punk ditties like the garage-influenced “Radio Hopeless”, and the declarative, “Free Speech Protest Song” — both combine to barely break the 1:30 mark, lending creedence to that line about brevity being the soul of wit. If only the Filmstars applied the brevity theme to the complete effort, we might be spared some unnecessary selections. Among the ugly tracks, there is the incongruous drone of “Zetland Hardware”, and the sleepy Interpol-esque “Romance’s Final Image”, with a remarkably banal chorus of, “There’s a party going on downstairs, people dancing in their underwear, and I don’t care”.
This 70-minute effort from the Beatnik Filmstars provides a bit of something for everyone. Even though the band probably could have cut off about one-third of the album and still assembled a decent effort, this is probably what you should expect from a rarity compilation by the self-appointed British version of Guided by Voices. There’s a lot of variety, a lot of rockin’ tunes, a couple of experimental head scratchers and a few pop gems: It’s a lot of talent going in many different directions. Rather than GBV, I’d be more likely to dub them the poor man’s Sebadoh.