Extraordinarily talented singer-songwriters Catherine (lead guitar) and Susan Hay (bass guitar) are twin sisters with Louise Brooks’ style hairdos. Their younger brother Alex is the drummer. Surprisingly, they’re from Perth, Australia. Working in London clubs, they reportedly established a quirky cocktail of summery melodic pop with contemplative hints of melancholy. With this indie debut album, Tall Poppies now deliver a subtly irreverent, lyrically elegant sound with perfect lilting harmonies, trademarked by angels. The band’s airily humorous tenor is much in evidence onButterfingers (“When you can’t get a grip everything breaks”), and Drinking Life (“through a straw”), although darker jazz-lounge concerns of loss and addiction may lurk in the shadows.
Moving on, we have Time Machine. A song about the tragedy of getting what you wish for? With some trepidation, Lilly’s off to see the world of 2099, and there’s a nagging question of whether she’ll ever return. There’s also a rather nifty video for this – available for download from the band’s website, featuring an old pushbike as conceptual time-travel device (who needs a DeLorean, anyway?). It effortlessly transcends no-budget kitsch values, makes for delightfully ironic viewing, and adds considerable visual appeal to the song’s narrative that is quite in favour with the Tall Poppies’ unfashionably quaint, but utterly charming, image.
St Ives creates a happily romantic sense of place at sunset (“I never want to move”). Funky (as other commentators smitten by the Poppies have noted) offers the proverbial ‘sex for the ears’ with its irresistibly enchanting vocals, and any song that casually includes the word ‘smidgen’ is worth your attention. The breathtaking originality of Chameleon mixes and mismatches tempo changes and thematic inspirations. With startlingly dry wit (“Where’s your money, honey?”) and marvellous whimsy, the influence of Kate Bush is especially noticeable here.
The party continues with quickie, Chocolatier, before the fabulous Better Off Dead, which is probably the band’s most energetic, tuneful, and instantly familiar track. Its lyrics festooned with a surplus of possible meanings (“I’ll hold your hands till your fingers turn blue”), it’s infectiously danceable magic. Jittery ballads, Don’t Leave (“I’m not ready for the fear”), aching with shameless sadness, Cocoon (“I could love you but…”), and the heartfelt cello-rock of Only A Nomad (Can Carry On)skitter across the emotional spectrum from sorry wallow to chilly rejection. Following an overlong lead-in, the CD features an extra, unlisted track, with lovely tinkling piano, another brightly cheerful vocal, and a snippet of French dialogue.
The music industry is like the ‘Borg’ from Star Trek… Everything gets assimilated, and so individuality and distinctiveness is lost in the process. Tall Poppies stand head and shoulders above the quivering mass of inarticulate wannabes out there. It would be a terrible shame if their convention-defying, yet unpretentious, genius were to be overlooked in the general, competitive mêlée.