Pocketbooks - Flight Paths

Ian Simpson 05/05/2009

Rating: 2.5/5

Despite threatening it for a long time, this is my first outing for GIITTV so hello to all you lovely new readers. I'm Ian and you probably think I'm a tool - and if you don't, just give it time; you will.

So Bill sent me the Pocketbooks album on How Does It Feel To Be Loved as a warmer-upper. Owing to my day-job as a gunslinger in Their Hearts Were Full of Spring, I think he's under the impression that I'm bang into Indie-Pop and all things twee. As it happens, it's not my be-all and end-all; with a few exceptions, most of that stuff kinda makes me a little sick and more often than not, I blush for the kids who make it (!)

It's a Saturday afternoon and I'm at my girlfriend's house watching her mum build one of those mechanical lawnmowers, pretending to help when all I'm really doing is annoying everyone. Ordinarily I like to give new records a few spins on my own, a couple of turns on the hi-fi and a couple in the headphones on the way to and from work or whatever but I hadn't been home for a week, had only nipped back for my post and when I did, there were a good twenty promo CDs I needed to take a look at so time wasn't really my friend and I had to go for the communal approach.

Listening to a record with the sole intention of judging it is helped and hindered by an audience; on the one hand you can steal people's comments and observations as your own (if they're funny/interesting/both) but on the other hand of course, you can't tell them to shut the f.uck up when you want to concentrate, apparently that's considered rude so I kinda begin with a couple of half-a.rsed background listens to start with while I supervise the lawnmower construction further.

The first thing to jump out at me is the painful realisation that after five tracks, nothing has jumped out at me. Oh dear. It's not as if I'm being overly distracted by other more exciting things, it would just appear that this is quite simply an ignorable record.

Now, I've played alongside the guys from Pocketbooks, as a unit and in some of their various guises and it's likely that our paths will cross again 'on the circuit' as it were so believe me when I say I genuinely found it difficult to make the decision to be polite or to tell the truth about how I feel about parts of this record. I've opted for the latter purely because it'll be a more entertaining read.

Emma Hall hails from Grimsby, as do I which of course, is unfortunate for both of us. I feel an affinity with anyone who had to wade through the mediocrity of that dirty old town and managed to make it out alive and as such I suffer a further pang of guilt when I say that it's her fault that this record is not what it has the potential to be. I'm really not trying to be mean but I feel as though I have to mention the elephant in the room - She has a rape-alarm voice. She's nasal and spitty like a deaf, Down's syndrome Debbie Harry impersonator. Maybe I'm not seeing it for what it is and maybe it's the kind of voice that grows on you like Conor Oberst, Joanna Newsom or Captain Beefheart - I just can't grasp it myself.

Don't dismiss the record in its entirety just for that though, there are some great melodies, delicate and pretty performances from every instrument and some genuine thought has obviously gone into every aspect of each composition. That should most certainly be commended but it just hurts at times.

I'm probably not making myself any friends on the Anorak forums and such like but I can't lie, the whole of Flight Paths, despite its fleeting sing-along-ability is just too wet/coy/naïve for me.

I understand what Pocketbooks are trying to do, or at least I think I do (I have a fairly comprehensive Belle & Sebastian back catalogue!!) but it just doesn't cut it for me.

In the world of rare and limited edition releases from unheard of acts, DIY ethics and home-made 'zines Flight Paths has a place... near the top of any pile I'd hasten to add, but in a world of colour magazines, major labels and marketing, this album just doesn't stand up.

This record has none of the magic that unites a nation under a political movement, it narrates no gritty, harrowing events or deep, crafted characters to engage the listener and move them and it certainly doesn't have any lowest common denominator pop-culture elements to make it instantly fashionable. I'd guess though that Pocketbooks weren't aiming for that anyway. This is a niche market record by a niche market band made for a niche market fanbase. Fair play to them but it's not my cup of twee.

If you've ever misjudged a sunbathing session (assuming you ever take your cardigan off) and burnt yourself trying to achieve a bronzing, you're already familiar with the general tone of this album. It could have been so wonderful but instead is a little embarrassing to share until the swelling lessens, the skin peels off and you've had a few days to rest. After that, it's passable but you don't need it.