Pellumair - Summer Storm
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That’s why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
An escapist’s ambition drove Pellumair’s Jaymie Caplen and Tom Stanton to once busk for spare pence in breezy Southampton. At least, that’s what I like to imagine. When an artist’s lifespan is brief, the posturing and pin-ups kept to the bare minimum, ardent fans are left to conceive their own band-related imagery. Thus, mine: the Cenotaph in Southampton’s West Park, its gray skin thick with urban tarnish, not unlike the blackened guitar strings of the two acid-handed musicians sitting at the monument’s base; two guitar urchins in bare feet, beading up from the sweat-slicked heat wave of ‘03, hunched over their bruised six-strings, indiscretions and discord an infinity away as they sing “Seventy” in unison: “There’s something you give / And there’s something I gave / Something called yesterday.”
The busking imagery is fitting. Pellumair was intimate and pure: the traditional rhythm section stripped away, leaving just one acoustic and one electric guitar. Its beat and breath was momentary, its mood impulsive: gentle guitar wash suddenly giving way to tidal thunder (a typical busker’s reaction to the ribald, teenaged coin-dropper demanding a rendition of “You’re Shit,” no?). Key is Southampton’s Cenotaph, as Summer Storm is Pellumair’s very own cenotaph, Caplen and Stanton erecting a monument to pop long dead and buried. Chiseled into the Portland stone is “1988”: the year indie guitar pop was squelched by acid house. Sing it again, fellas: “Something called yesterday . . .”
When an artist fully immerses himself in other eras, it can lead to art that’s nothing more than cloying apery. Summer Storm never surrenders to such trappings, thanks to Caplen and Stanton’s ability to draw fresh, melodious lines between 1988’s many vertices: Sarah Records missives, neo-psychedelia / shoegazer fence-straddling, look-at-me jangle, post-Smiths guitar pop. The opener, “Side For This,” is Harvey Williams curling up with his self-loathing and cheap wine – before the Friday night quarantine is ruined by My Bloody Valentine’s acid-and-vinyl party in the flat upstairs. “Lucy” is the Field Mice drowning Jason Pierce in their clawfoot bathtub, the Spacemen 3-like electric guitar ripples Pierce’s struggle for life. “Painted Over” finds the Dentists’ prying guitars removing the wainscoting, boiserie, and other appurtenances in the House of Love’s golden-lit villa.
The album’s pinnacle, “Seventy,” sounds like the Razorcuts leaving sordid Luton behind for a holiday on the south coast, going for breezy walks ankle-deep in ocean water, and getting salt stains on their rolled-up pants. The title track feels the dawdling Chesterfie!ds ducking out for a piss, missing Everything But The Girl’s nighttime coronation, and then hearing about it secondhand in the ladies-in-waiting room. And then the closer: The East Village-like melody in “Retirement Gold” a line of marbles left by a swollen-bellied boy as he picks his way through the detritus of a war-slapped city, hiding under an overturned bathtub when a thunderstorm approaches, mistaking the Felt-tipped gusts and the guitar crackling of the Flatmates for the din of battle.
In 2005, the U.K. was a child’s connect-the-dots worksheet, a thousand improvident artists lighting candles to artists and arbiters of the past. Only, they were running a finger down the table of contents from Rip It Up and Start Again in search of that creative tickle, bands like Maximo Park, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, etc., the day’s poster boys of post-post-punk. Caplen and Stanton eschewed those means for easy plaudits by swearing fealty to lesser gods – two lads reminding us ‘80s pop zealots what made that era’s scenes and signifiers so endearing.
Of course, their beautiful genuflection ended with a toppling over on the temple carpet. After playing just three gigs and signing to Geoff Travis’ Rough Trade subsidiary, Tugboat, the duo experienced nothing but chaos and folly: a support slot for fellow Sotonians the Delays, landing a (rather ham-handed) manager, a maddening stab at burnishing their live sound, and countless white-knuckle trips to cut a single and an album with Bark Psychosis’ Graham Sutton. Continuous activity is quite adept at covering up strife, so when Caplen and Stanton finally sat down and mopped their brows, the squabbling commenced. Pellumair broke up one month before Summer Storm was released in November of ‘05.
“I thought we were in danger of just becoming a poor Slowdive tribute act,” Caplen told me. “I guess I was more pop and he [Stanton] was more ‘gaze. The album was the perfect marriage, in my eyes at least, but he was getting frustrated, and wanted to get more and more effects laden and droning. This wasn’t what I’d ever wanted Pellumair to be and I made that pretty clear. The record we were both happy with – we compromised well and the results pleased us both, but it was where we went after this that was the real issue.”
One-off’s typically elicit a bevy of questions: Would the band have headed left of center or right of center? What song snippets provide clues? How many scalps would they have claimed? The fraught / fragile soundscapes of Summer Storm evoke the deepening shadows of twilight, the long reach of a day’s end. There’s a warm finality here, like fresh earth packed inside a burial urn, and that makes such “what if” queries inconsequential. Besides, Caplen is satisfied his existence produced at least one standing pop monument, why can’t we be?
“I’ve always got the record to show my kids,” he told me, “or look at when I’m an old man.”