Note from the editor: Usually we maintain a variation of AP-guide styling in our articles and employ “American English” instead of “British English.” This article is however an exception, due to its subject matter, the way in which it is written, and the fact that it is written by a British author. Changing the language details simply felt wrong this time around. Therefore: British English.
Picturebox sings Papernut, and vice versa, on a new release from Gare Du Nord Records.
Here in the United Kingdom, there’s currently much furore about 2014 being the 20th anniversary of Britpop. Apparently, the fact that it’s been two decades since Albarn, the Gallaghers, and their tribe of preening ne’er-do-wells lolloped out of the suburbs to bring their Austin Powers-style rock memorabilia into the public eye is worth celebrating.
I’m not so sure. A few exceptions notwithstanding Britpop wasn’t much cop the first time round, and the whole thing stinks of a few look-back bores trying to flog a few more old records before retiring to the county to make cheese.
There is some hope, however. Take Papernut Cambridge, for example. The band, formed by ex-Death In Vegas and Thrashing Doves guitarist Ian Button, takes its inspiration from a similar musical sea as the Britpop lot–The Small Faces, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake–yet scraping away the ’90s muck, like a sharp paring knife cleaning the gunk from a fresh mussel to reveal the briny goodness within.
Last year’s “Cambridge Nutflake” was a fine statement of intent, full of a fuggy trippiness, like ‘shrooms on toast on a damp autumn afternoon. Their latest jape sees the band playing musical chairs with Canterbury lo-fi pop urchins Picturebox for a new split 7-inch and digital EP, Swaps (April 28, Gare Du Nord). Each band contributes a song, which is recorded twice, once with each of the bands’ singers. “Picturebox sings Papernut, Papernut sings Picturebox” as the EP’s Bandcamp page reads.
It’s an interesting idea, albeit one that feels like a joke thought up after a few too many real ales. Across four songs, it’s just about bearable. “When She Said What She Said” has a clumpy, motorik-on-downers rhythm, overlaid with a mellow refrain complete with nonsense bubblegum lyrics: “Do you remember / When She Said / What She Said / Get it in your head” chirps the chorus, which are empty enough to make Noel Gallagher look like Philip Roth.
Fortunately, the silvery 12-string guitar riff that curls around the verse saves the day, combining with the flute-driven interlude to turn the tune into a charming folk-rock ditty. Of the two versions on the EP, the Papernut Cambridge version just about edges it for me, the throaty croon and vocal harmonies on the chorus giving it a more pleasing psychedelic feel.
For their part, the musicians of Picturebox contribute a slice of fizzy bubblegum pop, “A Nicer Man”. Chugging along with staccato guitars and tremulous organ, the lyrics pay tribute to the titular pleasant chap. It’s a character study in the tradition of Pink Floyd’s “Arnold Layne” or The Small Face’s “Happiness Stan”: “A lynchpin, top man, salt of the earth”. Not much to choose between versions here, both have their charms.
There some bonus, digital-only, alternate versions of the song on the release. How essential these are will depend upon how much of a Papernut Cambridge or Picturebox completist you are. For me, the extended version of “When She Said What She Said” with some extra guitar wrangling is worth having.
Overall, Swaps is a pretty decent way to spend half an hour or so, but it feels like both bands are marking time. As a pointer to their next releases, Swaps does its job–but I hope Papernut Cambridge and Picturebox get back into the studio for something more substantial soon.