Where lies the line between retro and pastiche? It’s a question The Puppini Sisters might ask themselves, or for that matter Ocean Colour Scene, BR5-49 or Camera Obscura, all of whom have dabbled or revelled in evoking sounds of yesteryear. Camera Obscura in particular have managed to craft a sound recognisably their own, which nevertheless wears its influences not so much on its sleeve as it does fashion a three-piece suit from them.
I’ve been listening to – am listening to as I type, in fact – ‘Rayguns Are Not Just The Future‘, the second album from The Bird and The Bee, the joint project of well-connected musos Inara George and Greg Kurstin. As suggested even by the record’s title, with its wry evocation of a now outdated but once cutting edge future, this is an album rooted very much in the 1960s. Everything from the artwork to the clothes worn by the duo proclaim a very conscious retroism, inviting us to expect the loungey Bond themes many of these songs so very much resemble.
It’s easy to wonder what the point of all this is, except that between retro and pastiche lies invention, and The Bird and the Bee manage very ably to inhabit that hinterland. So Polite Dance Song is all jagged lines despite its swelling brass, and Diamond Dave or Witch, whilst groovier than the 78 it no doubt wishes it was on, benefits from just the right hint of electronica.
There are missteps – Love Letter to Japan is too twee even for fans of Aberfeldy – but by and large the songs are accessibly familiar without sounding stale, George’s cool, often brittle voice offering a compelling counterpoint to the lush, dreamy arrangements of the multi-instrumentalist Kurstin. They are smooth and light, for sure, but all those swinging coffee houses have cappucino on the menu, right?