The Hermit Crabs: Saw You Dancing

Kevin Pearson

Scottish band siphon the spirit of Camera Obscura and Belle and Sebastian, distilling it down into their own brand of fey folk and indie-pop.

The Hermit Crabs

Saw You Dancing

Label: Matinee
US Release Date: 2007-10-09
UK Release Date: 2007-12-03

Ever since Postcard Records perfected its own brand of pop back in the late 1970s with their ‘Sound of Young Scotland’, Glasgow has grown into a musical epicenter. From Orange Juice to Teenage Fanclub, through to the Pastels and Belle and Sebastian, the Scottish city has distilled its own DIY ethos and a mix of punk and classic pop to create something of a scene -- albeit one that’s as disjointed as it is distinguished. With such a strong base to start from, Glaswegian bands can sometimes get by on association alone. The Hermit Crabs have affiliations in abundance. Singer and rhythm guitarist, Melanie Whittle -- the only permanent member since their 2003 inception -- and bass player, Des McKenna, both played in California Snow Story with David Skirving, who was an early member of Camera Obscura. Several of the album’s songs were produced by current Teenage Fanclub drummer and former BMX Bandit member, Francis McDonald. And the album’s title track name-checks the Buzzcocks, a band that Edwyn Collins, lead singer of Orange Juice, once said “subverted people’s idea about what a punk group should be like,” thus informing the city’s indie pop cognoscenti.

Unfortunately, though, much like their crustacean namesake, which live inside salvaged sea shells, the Hermit Crabs cling to existing structures and styles instead of striking out on their own. Their home is a well-honed one -- cozy and comfortable, safe and secure. The foundations are built upon Camera Obscura’s fey indie-pop and slight female vocals, which, given the Hermit Crabs' background, should come as no surprise. (Both bands have, at one time, shared a stage and a drummer). There are also remnants of early Belle and Sebastian, but where their fellow Scots’ first two albums sounded timeless, the Hermit Crabs resurrect a bygone age. Indeed, Saw You Dancing might be hailed by some as a lost classic had it been released by Sarah Records in the 1980s. But in today’s current climate, it sounds too slight, as if a breeze might bum rush it before reaching our ears.

The band first gained recognition two years ago when their song “Feel Good Factor” won the Burnsong competition -- a Scottish songwriting contest named after poet Robert Burns. Upon first listen, it’s easy to see why it did so well. The track, a glorious folk-pop ode to their hometown’s main thoroughfare, Sauchiehall Street, is catchy and instantaneous, utilizing guitar, piano, and violin as a capsule for Whittle’s wily lyrics and “cha cha cha"s. It’s a shame, then, that it also signifies the band’s blueprint. Much like Camera Obscura’s “80’s Fan”, which sounded like Belle and Sebastian, the Hermit Crabs are the next generation, opaquely cribbing from similar sources.

Then again, the band may be openly inviting these comparisons. Any Glaswegian group that name checks Sartre in song is, perhaps inevitably, asking for the obligatory Belle and Sebastian cat call. That said, the band is not as precious or precocious, and there’s no brass instrumentation either. What there is, though, is violin, and on several occasions the instrument lifts a song above its flat-lining folk.

Opening track “Tonight” benefits from this instrumental intervention, as does “Closet Fan”, the added texture toughening up the folk-tinged indie pop. Texture, it seems, is the Hermit Crab’s key to success. Whittle’s thin vocals work exceptionally well when double tracked, or backed by additional harmonies, as on the soaring “Third Time Lucky” or the jaunty, juxtaposing “Goodbye My Friend”. More often than not, though, the band sounds too meager. “Lean Free Summer” is so terribly twee that it makes the opening bass line of the proceeding “Bad Timing” sound rockabilly.

Yet for all the fey, pastoral, folk pop, there is a punk undertone -- not in sound, but in the simplistic spirit in which the songs are structured. Nothing sounds extraneous. Thematically, punk also plays a part. On the album’s title track, Whittle sings: “Saw you dancing to ‘Ever Fallen in Love’”. Later, in the same song, she runs home, pulls the covers over her head, and listens to some punk rock. With this in mind, there are times when you wish they would instill a similar attitude, take to the streets, and actually evoke some of Glasgow’s grit and grime, and some of the salaciousness of Sauchiehall Street into their music as well as their lyrics. Scuff it up a little.

There is promise here, and with a settled line up (the group’s revolving door stopped spinning during the recording process) it will be interesting to see how they expand on this release. But if the Hermit Crabs really are the current sound of young Scotland, someone needs to spike the Iron Bru.


Kuinka appeal to ornery Renaissance royalty with a joyous song in their infectiously fun new music video.

With the release of Americana band Kuinka's Stay Up Late EP earlier this year, the quartet took creative steps forward to deftly expand their sound into folk-pop territory. Riding in on the trend of moves made by bands like the Head and the Heart and the National Parks in recent years, they've traded in their raw roots sound for a bit more pop polish. Kuinka has kept the same singalong, celebratory vibe that they've been toting all this time, but there was a fork in the sonic highway that they boldly took this go-around. In this writer's opinion, they succeeded in once again captivating their audience, just in a respectably newfound way.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.