The McTells are the most significant (and prolific) band on the International Pop Underground affiliate Bi-Joopiter. Granted, that’s not saying much, but the English trio does what it does well. The band’s early work holds a British mirror up to Australia’s Cannanes, minus the anguish. Delivered as light pop, the songs are punctuated (well, dominated) by “bop bops” and “whoo-oos,” and concerned mostly with losing girls and lackadaisical wanderings.
The first side of the plaintively happy Cut Up pairs singer Paul Nixon’s nasal melodies to chattering, nervous, mod-ish pop. Side Two adds a sprightly organ and animated character to the already lively bass, creating an even more captivating sound that is, impossibly, smooth and awkward at the same time. What Happens Next, an oddly sequenced career retrospective-cum-singles compilation, has the added bonus of some previously unreleased material. The six newly recorded songs — glossier productions, with a washy guitar sound copped from the legions of My Bloody Valentine imitators — are scattered amidst the band’s rustic pop bits from the 1980s. And even though the collection includes numbers from every period, it’s not an impressive bunch — the short, bobbing singles, overall, exemplify the band’s methodical nature, but don’t make a lasting impression. Nixon creates some tension, however, by scrawling the phrasing and scowling the happy lyrics.
Smash Up, McTells’ second real full-length, has a little more muscle, a little more push, but it’s just as whiny as ever. The band doesn’t let its three-chord energy flag, but it does retrace steps. Nixon’s voice barely holds up, and there’s a dreadful Daniel Johnston cover (“Museum of Love”). Cuteness abounds, however, in a lower-key way. Two instrumentals have neat touches: “West Pier” incorporates bells, and “In a Vacuum” has an actual noisy, static-y vacuum picking up dust through the whole song.