It was an unfortunate day in 2008 when The Long Blondes had to disband after only two albums due to guitarist/songwriter Dorian Cox’s stroke. While rumours continued to percolate around Long Blondes frontwoman Kate Jackson’s yet-to-be-released solo album, I hadn’t heard anything more about the rest of the band, especially about what had become of Cox. Then at the end of last October, I received an email out of the blue ether, announcing his return with a new band called Former Lover. And they were apparently releasing a limited edition maxi-cassingle with fellow indie Sheffield band Nature Set. This was fantastic news. For one thing, I really love the word cassingle. Luckily, I also discovered that I really enjoyed both bands’ work. Fronted by Myrtle with Cox on guitar/organ and Daniel Dylan Wray on bass, Former Lover is an exciting departure from the scratchy vintage pop we had grown used to hearing from Cox. Instead, we get some minimal, yet seductive post-punk that relies heavily on the bass guitar for melody lines. Nature Set, which includes another ex-Long Blondes member, Reenie Hollis, and Daf, Claire, and Marie of garage-punk band Navvy, is a high-octane contrast with buzzsaw guitar and wonky synths. The sunshine yellow cassette has no label, but comes in a cardboard slipcase that has a DIY stamped design reminiscent of The Orphan Arms’ aesthetic. The analog format definitely serves both bands’ styles of music, allowing for the constant creep of static on Former Lover’s songs and fleshing out the fuzztones of Nature Set.
The first side I’m cued to slip into the tape player is the Former Lover side. Myrtle’s detached yet sweet, Alison Stattonesque voice is a clinical complement to a musical background that makes me think of sodium-lit car parks and cheap, brown-wallpapered motels from the 70s (the retro aesthetic is also cultivated in their music videos). With the three songs’ knocked-up pauses and obvious drum machines, they evoke the seedy and the synthetic. “He Doesn’t Have to Know About You” begins with a psychotic, pared-down bass figure that recalls “Stand By Me,” but twists it into something unresolved, unhinged, and voyeuristic. The song even includes what sounds like a much harsher, sharper güiro, a mechanized güiro, in fact. To supplement the languid bass, there are fabulous scribbles of distorted guitar that sound like someone slowly losing his/her mind. In a singsong, matter-of-fact vocal, Myrtle provides the chorus of “He doesn’t have to know about you/And she doesn’t have to know about me/For the record.” She even sets a time limit on the relationship: “until we’re thirty-five at the most.” The second track, “Unlust,” carries the fullest guitar line, but still keeps gaps of tension and a metallic iciness in the random clangs of percussion. There are more lyrics of a fantastically straightforward nature, such as “I suppose my lust for you is wasted/So I suppose I should divert it somewhere else.” The final track is “Heartbreak Button,” an understated tango set to the weirdly flat whip of a drumbeat you would find on the opening of New Order’s “Blue Monday.” Between stabs of organ, Myrtle pleads “Don’t press the heartbreak button…please,” damping her desperation by reverting to the mechanical stance on love and sex that is present in the previous tracks. At one point, the song becomes particularly chilling as the narrator asks “I was a good person/Wasn’t I?,” which sounds like the kind of unsettling, doubting question you hear from a person clinging to an unhealthy relationship.
With their snarky female backing vocals and pop sensibility, there’s a bit of Kenickie about Nature Set. Their opening track, “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now,” taunts and seesaws back and forth to a punchy bassline and a counter melody on synths. The drums pound through the bridge as synths continue to build with alarm-like quality and the electric guitar crescendos to a roar. “Hands” begins with the proclamation that “this week has gone to hell” and the narrator has “done nothing worthwhile.” It blossoms into a punky version of a 60s girl group song complete with a Spectorish bassline on methamphetamine and wide-eyed Sarah Records vocals. There’s a brash honesty to the lyrics, including “I’m not wishing it could last,” and the chorus is a blast of blissful melody as it delivers more candid observations: “It’s all right here in my hands…I still want more than I’ve found.” Closing track, “I Am a Planet,” is a swift, spinning slap of crazy. The vocals build upon each other in rhyming recklessness while arcade synths buzz in the background and the drums crash. It’s the perfect, incendiary collapse for the end of the cassette.
I truly hope I’ll be hearing more from both bands in the near future. Long live the Sheffield indie scene. And long live the impractical, yet enchanting cassingle.
Purchase the cassingle for only £2.50 at Naked Under Spacesuit.