Saturday, February 18, 2012

Virtual vinyl artefact of the day

"Shallow" / "Lessons", by Beach Fossils.

Ah, the seven-inch single. A small, flat, circular piece of vinyl, with one song on the A side, another song on the B side. They often come in a nice cardboard sleeve, with a picture on one side and some scant biographical details or product information on the other. You can play one side as many times as you like, as long as you don't mind getting up (or stopping dancing around the room) to put the needle back to the start of the record again. And then, when you get tired of listening to that song, you can turn the record over and -- lo! -- listen to the other song. (Perhaps the analogue, tactile nature of this exercise is a part of the particular sense of attachment one gets with singles. Even album tracks, in the days of vinyl, didn't quite carry the same sense of immediacy.)

Of course, I haven't actually bought one of these things for many a long year. So why this sudden outburst of nostalgia? Because, notwithstanding I acquired these two songs as MP3 files, and can play them one after the other on an endless loop, wirelessly remoted to many devices and/or parts of the house, they seem (to me) to epitomise the very essence of seven-inch-singleness. Both songs are under-three-and-a-half-minute slices of pop brilliance, and both make me want to get up, turn the record over, and play the other one.

Amongst the teeming, bottomless morass of "Brooklyn bands" (many of which probably don't even hail from Brooklyn, except in the sense of Brooklyn as a state of mind) only three have ever really caught my ear: Real Estate, Woods and Beach Fossils. (This might not actually be true: do Emeralds and their countless offshoots count as "Brooklyn"?) These three groups are quite different from each other, but what they have in common is their ability to breath new life into the always potentially moribund form of guitar pop.

When I listen to Beach Fossils, even now that the novelty of their sound has long worn off, I hear strong echoes of the venerable, distinguished, still vibrant Postcard sound (even if it is now showing signs of gray hair around the ears): a singular, effervescent jangle. That they combine this with a flat, affectless, I-might-be-singing-about-love-but-I-don't-really-give-a-damn vocal style doesn't detract from the songs' sparkle. (It might turn out to mark them as part of the class of 2011-12. But we can leave that to the hystorians.)

Now turn to side A:

Now turn to side B:

That's the other thing about the perfect seven-inch single: you can never decide which song you like better.