When Art Garfunkel released his 2002 album, Everything Waits to Be Noticed, a journalistic colleague of mine praised it to the heavens as a work of brilliance; I accepted his rave, purchased the CD without having heard a single song, and, lo and behold, the album turned out to be a stellar album of soft pop.
As I was enjoying the disc, another acquaintance of mine compared it favorably to the Pearlfishers.
The result: I immediately wanted to know all there was to know about the Pearlfishers. I'm a sucker for a favorable comparison to another artist.
Described by Stewart Mason on the All Music Guide as "a glorious soft pop band mixing acoustic-based music with subtle orchestral flourishes, rather like a Glasgow-based Prefab Sprout with a major Brian Wilson fixation", this description of the Pearlfishers is certainly apt based on Sky Meadows, their third album.
While the High Llamas rip off Brian Wilson unabashedly -- like, to the point where you'd be hard pressed to pin down anyone else in their record collection -- the Pearlfishers certainly aren't afraid to mix up their influences. In addition to Wilson, it's very important to also include the Beatles, Burt Bacharach, and Todd Rundgren. After all, any group that entitles a song "Todd Is God" would probably rather enjoy it if you cited Rundgren as the subject of one of their fixations. At the very least, they're certainly not going to argue the point; they wouldn't have much of a leg to stand on, now, would they?
The Pearlfishers have spent their entire career on independent labels, and Sky Meadows is no exception, released on Marina Records in Germany and distributed in the US by Parasol. This clearly allows frontman/songwriter David Scott the sort of freedom to follow his own muse that every artist prefers, and which major labels stifle at most every opportunity, in order to cater to current industry trends. Listening to Sky Meadows and a track like "My Dad the Weatherfan", a song so instantly reminiscent of Burt Bacharach that the man should get a percentage of the royalties, you can hear how immaculately it's structured; it's clear this album, no doubt like its predecessors, was a labor of love.
Mind you, the production was handled by Scott himself, which makes it easy to capture exactly what you want.
What interesting is that, despite its elaborate instrumentation, it's devoid of any particularly retro touches, which is wise; it's all too easy to get caught up in trying to reproduce the precise sound of a bygone era once you've started. (It's almost too easy to cite any number of artists from the Rainbow Quartz label as examples of this, so I'll restrain myself.) Yes, the muted horns on "Todd Is God" and "My Dad the Weatherfan" add to the feel of the song, but never do you particularly get the feeling that you've stepped through a time warp. It's more of a loving tribute than a blatant replica. Same with the way you can hear strains of Paul McCartney circa Ram and Band on the Run in "Haricot Bean and Bill" without being able to pinpoint precisely what causes the aural similarity. Fans of such present-day soft pop artists as Linus of Hollywood, the Heavy Blinkers, and June and the Exit Wounds would certainly be on terra firma with this album.
While Paddy MacAloon is off exploring his experimental, instrumental side with I Am the Megahertz, after listening to Sky Meadows, there seems no reason at all why the Pearlfishers can't fill the void left by Prefab Sprout.
And, hell, when Paddy gets back, the battle for ultimate supremacy should be fun, too.