This quintet, which originally came from Watford — near London, but evidently insulated from that city’s turbulent trendiness — resembles a cross between R.E.M. and a garage-spawned analogue of Dark Side of the Moon. Tristan Garel-Funk plays jangly guitar, almost all of it arpeggio chorded (… la Byrds/Searchers), and David Woods adds texture and melody with sax and keyboards, eventually growing more sophisticated in sound and shading, if not technique. The songs canter at new wave uptempo or a more brooding mid-speed, but the music is moody and contemplative. Vocals by one Garce Allard aren’t trendily emotive, instead possessing the kind of quiet gravity that makes overstatement unnecessary, even with lyrics of hurt or anger.
While Epic Garden Music is pretty much what its self-satiric title suggests, it also boasts several excellent crystallizations of the group’s style. Feeding the Flame, after an abrasive opening, is much quieter, a less immediate and ultimately more distressing record. (Both CDs contain numerous bonus tracks.)
The group dissolved around the end of ’83, but resumed activity in 1985. Before the release of any new material, however, a pair of artifacts from the original lineup appeared. In the Breeze contains alternate versions of some tracks (several are from a John Peel session) plus a few unreleased rough gems; it’s almost as essential as the first LP, although the three songs the two discs share are presented in earlier, rawer takes here. The seven-song Total Sound is a mini-album recorded live in Holland for a radio broadcast.
On The Mirror Test, Allard and original drummer Nigel Pollard are joined by a completely new guitar/bass/keyboards axis, not to mention new songwriting partners for Allard. Sad Lovers are a smoother crew this time around and, although the LP does resemble the band’s previous sound, the music is pleasant without being quite so memorable; the lyrics are generally less poignant. Yet, as with all of their records, each listening reveals more. (The CD has a revised sequence and four bonus tracks.)
The Cow Boys EP contains remixes of two early singles (1982’s “Lost in a Moment” and 1983’s “Cow Boys”), a live version of another oldie and a song lyrically overhauled from The Mirror Test.