I wrote this in March 2009 and never got round to finishing it. It’s too good to delete and although I sort of remember what it is I’d intended to say, the momentum is long gone now.
The new Pocketbooks album sounds like spring coming. It sounds like a warm summer evening falling soundlessly, lazily over the city. It sounds like those bright, crisp autumn afternoons when the world seems to be at your feet. It sounds like the mist that turns Exmouth into a poem about winter. It sounds like arriving in a strange town on a train, full of anticipation and nerves; like the view from Marianthi’s flat, over south London; like sunshine on your skin in an Athenian winter; like April showers; like a day off entirely devoted to reading a book on the sofa; like an unexpedcted love letter from a long lost penpal; like the perfect cup of coffee; like waking up from a good dream to sunlight pouring through your window.
In short, it sounds like being alive.
I seriously doubt I ever had the ability to talk about music I like with anything approaching subjectivity. But even if I did, I have lost completely in the years since I last attempted to use it. I cannot convince anyone who doesn’t already love Pocketbooks to pieces that they are the most fabulous thing to happen to indiepop since the invention of Pipas, all those years ago. Oh, I can go on about the wonderfully witty, heart-achingly bittersweet, awfully clever yet entirely uncynical lyrics. I can write a book about those, believe me. I can even pretend to talk about the music — the keyboards, the guitars, the occasional harmonies, the all-important urgency and the way it is always balanced, almost restrained, by a certain poetry. But none of this means anything until I tell you that it makes me want to weep with joy, or that it makes me want to turn pirouettes and somersaults, or that it makes my heart sing and sigh. And none of these things are about ‘Flight paths’, they are all about me.
Of course, this is my blog and I can talk about myself if I want to. I can tell you about the evening I fell in love with Pocketbooks (documented by last.fm here). I can tell you about the smell of the linden blossom that floated in through the open window; about the darkness that came earlier and earlier each night; about the way I clang to the last remnants of my first English summer. I can tell you I sat in the darkened flat, on my own, playing mindless computer games and listening to ‘Falling leaves’ again and again, trying hard to decipher the lyrics so that I could sing along, because it was imperative to do so, because my heart would explode if I didn’t. I can tell you about playing some Pocketbooks song or other in every futile attempt at a clubnight we ever made, and mumbling incoherently to the half- (or perfect) strangers that almost invariably showed up to ask what that was.
I can tell you about dancing my heart out at their gig at Indietracks, next to people who were dancing their hearts out too. I can tell you that I fell in love with them even more on that day, if that was ever possible; because seeing Andy make faces that match the lines he sings (‘look, I’m making all this up’) is charming beyond words. And I can tell you about hearing ‘Camera angels’ for the first time the next night, played acoustically on the platform, and being so overwhelmed by the perfectness of everything –the moment, the lyrics, the location, the weather– that I fell in love with the world, all over again, hopelessly, passionately, as if I had never done it before, as if I would never do it again. The song concluded exactly the way I thought it would (‘no one needs a storyboard to tell us what we should have known all along — that the camera follows everyone’) and all was right with the world that night.
I can tell you about seeing them again in October, in London, in a half-empty venue, and finding it hard to believe that someone had really written the line ‘and for every fleeting moment there’s a fortnight left to wonder if it happened at all’, that there are people outside my head who feel this way, and that they write perfect pop songs on top of that too. And I can tell you about the moment Pocketbooks launched into ‘Falling leaves’ and I cheered, and a group of strangers cheered, too, and we all joined in and we all knew all the words even though there’s such a lot of them, and I felt like I was in the presence of an anthem. It reminded me of what happens when Jens Lekman plays ‘You are the light’ — and indeed, why not? They’re both about the same kind of thing, too: passionate, loyal, hopeless, inspiring love.
I can tell you about the Saturday that followed which Marianthi and I spent walking through falling leaves and finishing each other’s sentences about the greatness that is Pocketbooks and the way they capture something Belle & Sebastian had for a moment or two in the year 2000, while pining for the new album. And I can tell you that eventually the new album arrived, on a March Monday morning, in the post, and that it was perfect beyond belief, beyond expectations, beyond words. And that it contained a song that began with the words:
‘And the most curious thing,
aside from the way that the sun always shines inappropriately on a crisis,
aside from the strange sense of calm and the way we instinctively sit on the left-hand side of the top deck of the local bus,
is what happens to all the secrets we carelessly shared on those January days on the sofa in the front room of your terraced house?’
I have just used up almost a thousand words to tell you that there is very little that I can tell you about the Pocketbooks. In fact there is only one thing, something that has been both elusive and always present in my writing about indiepop, of which there has been rather a lot. (Proportionately, in any case.) It is something I said once, almost by accident, and then continued trying to put it into words for years to come. It is the answer to the ever-present question — what is it about indiepop that makes it so magical to me? What is it about it that makes me so happy?