Pipas: Chunnel Autumnal

Jason MacNeil

Re-release consisting of original album and EP that will send Belle and Sebastian fans looking for their, well, Belle and Sebastian records.


Chunnel Autumnal

Label: Matinee
US Release Date: 2005-03-29
UK Release Date: 2005-03-14
Amazon affiliate

It's a fabulous Wednesday afternoon and all is well in the world -- the National Hockey League is back in business. Woo-hoo! So it should come as no surprise, then, that the thought of hockey starting again brings to mind images of autumn. It also appears that Pipas are just as interested in channeling, or "chunneling", in this case, those mental pictures of leaves turning orange and blood-red before falling to the ground. The group, signed to well-respected but criminally unknown Matinee, is re-issuing this record, which originally saw the light of day in 2001 on the little-known English indie label Long Lost Cousin. With three additional tracks added to the record, Pipas are intent on making the most of the 11 songs. Only when you realize that the album lasts a mere 25 minutes do you realize that it is probably going to be a very sweet record, but one which leaves you longing for much more.

The record could be mistaken for Belle And Sebastian -- quick, punchy pop songs that reek of '60s influences and terribly good male-female harmonies. From the onset of "Tout Va Bien", Mark Powell and Lupe Nunez-Fernandez weave simple melodies over a usually mid-tempo drumbeat that picks up in just the right spots. It's the sort of tune that leaves you hanging on each word, as the lyrics are classically British in the vein of Pulp. "You promised to move to London, / But that was years ago", a lyric goes, before a subtle violin or keyboard made to sound like a violin is faintly heard in the distance. The synthesized conclusion is quick, almost too abrupt. The band would've been better off fleshing the tune out for at least another 20 to 30 seconds. They also enjoy relishing a Nico-ish mood with the sparse, spoken-word approach to the chanteuse-esque "Don't Tell Me That" which inches along in a vein that brings to mind Cat Power or Feist, the former if she shared the apartment with the latter in Paris. And you also can't forget comparisons to Julie Doiron as well. The dual harmonies are again the selling point but the melodic tone is equally appealing to the listener.

The album, which is divided into an A side and a B side, has all the warmth that vinyl records often did, and the hushed indie lo-fi approach is what makes the record so strong. Yet there are some head-scratching moments here as well, especially on the light and too lounge-y "Wells Street", which again isn't far removed from the Parisian vein despite having some synthesizer and triangle touches. You envision this music as the type that would have fit on the Pink Panther soundtrack at some point. That isn't to say it's bad, nothing of the sort -- just that it has that dreamy late-60s pop hue hovering over it. "Moss Over" is quite rich, lush and orchestral in terms of arrangement, seemingly soaring over the other tracks on the record with the violins meshed against the occasional trip-hop backbeat. From there it relies on the music to maintain the high standard with better than anticipated results. Perhaps another benefit is the fact that the song is actually a full-fledged tune, not something that leaves you wanting at least half if not twice as much. Close but not quite as shining is the up-tempo (by this album's standards -- for mostly it's mid-tempo at best) "Bye Bye", which features a nice usage of hi-hat, some cheesy organ tones and a minimal DIY color embedded in the track.

The record's nadir is "The Bobby", which features the singer mentioning how it needed another note as the song is done and the tape is still rolling. They thankfully end on a high note with the Cure-like aura of "St. Pancras". Poppy, bouncy and able to stay on the radio-friendly cobblestone path, you'll find yourself bobbing from side to side. The three bonus tracks are actually an EP entitled A Short Film About Sleeping which the group recorded for Matinee prior to this release. The bass line to the title track from the EP is a funky, groove-riddled bit of work that consists of "ba ba ba bahs" and induces you to add handclaps. And "Fingerprints" ends it on a very strong note. You're a mighty fine band Pipas, but please add more songs next time!


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