Sunday, August 8, 2010

Review: Garfields Birthday "Tea and Sympathy"

Garfields Birthday is a band from Weymouth (a seaside town on the Dorest Coast of England) founded in the mid-1990s by James Laming and Simon Felton. We've last heard from them in 2008 when we reviewed their record, "Let Them Eat Cake" (review here). Astute readers will also recognize Simon Felton's name as we've also reviewed his solo record, "Failing in Biology" (review here).

Fourteen years is a long time to be writing songs and, as most people know, many more songs are written than those that find their way onto studio releases. "Tea and Sympathy" is a compilation of previous recordings that span the band's career yet never made it onto a full-length studio release. These tunes include early home and studio recordings, some of which were unreleased or included on the 1998 "Ambulance EP". For fans, these sixteen tracks are going to warm the heart and please the ears.

For the uninitiated, "Tea and Sympathy" may not be the best way to get acquainted with the band as most of the material is not among their strongest; some of it also suffers from low-fi production. However, I rather enjoy releases like "Tea and Sympathy" as they provide a rare glimpse into the history and evolution of a band - and on that level the record has a great deal of merit.

Highlights include the opening track, "Ambulance", the only real rocker in the bunch. While I like the upbeat and energetic instrumentation, rockers just don't seem to suit the timid vocals, which seemed to have gotten buried in the mix as well. Plentiful harmonies save the day on this track. "Thick Ear" and "Better Than Reality" should turn some heads halfway through the CD, and the band really hits a high note with the happy-go-lucky feel of "Margaret and Stephanie". "Just An Old Flame" is a charming, stripped down acoustic demo, and the coffeehouse sound suits the vocals well. I also thought "The Norm" was among the more engaging tracks in the collection. A couple songs show the band in experimentation mode, such as "Eye To Eye" and "The Filthy Underground", but the application of distorted vocals is quite irritating. The band is at its best when the music is soft and in sync with the lightweight vocals - and of course it doesn't hurt to invent a great melody to decorate with the music.

Garfields Birthday's mantra is "Indie pop for lost romantic souls". Give a listen to "Tea and Sympathy" to gain a better appreciation for how the band used the last 14 years to polish their craft.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 6, 9, 11, 12, 15

Garfields Birthday on MySpace. Official site.

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