Belle and Sebastian once said; “be popular, play pop, and you will win my love”. It is with this adage in mind that I bring to you "Twa Toots”, an unfortunately named but nevertheless excellent pop band from the 80’s, who trundled out a Peel Session, some 7” singles, an EP, and later a compilation called Don’t Send Me Flowers. It’s their 1986 EP Please Don’t Play a Rainy Night In Georgia (which contains two of the Peel cuts) I’ll be discussing here, but really any song by them is valid, since, given their tiny discography, they didn’t really have the chance to put out any bad cuts.
And yes, you read that correctly, they are a devout pop band (no jazz this time!). But this is pop in its purest, most clean form; a little wistful, a little sad, doe-eyed, but with a snap and a crackle to go along with it. It’s got pep. The eponymous opener reveals this; frontwoman Sarah Brown croons “darling, I know for sure, that you’re the one for me”, and goes on to plead, please, please don’t play that one song. The 60’s-era Stones-ish drums beat forward, the horn section playfully toots in the background, the bass and the lead guitar interplay; chorus, bridge, refrain. It sounds basic, but it is indomitably catchy, and one of the most pure examples of pop songwriting I’ve ever heard. If someone had to ask me to pick a flawless song, this would be it. Not a single element is out of place or missing. It’s all self-contained; the lyrics hiding a deep emotional undercurrent, the superbly interlocking arrangement, and that mysterious “other” element, that pop zing.
It sets a standard which is upheld for the entirety of the 7 gems of this EP. “Johnny Oliver” is a bit more ballad-y, the hidden darkness that bit more apparent underneath the arrangement. “Bewitched” picks things up again, shifting to a faster tempo and sounding like… Glitter. I don’t know why, but it makes me think of glitter. It’s not an especially glittery song, but it recalls glitter. (this is good).
“Julia’s Garden” feels like the closing credits music to some uber-cult CBBC stop-motion animation from the 1980’s, and if that isn’t the most ringing endorsement of a song I’ve ever written, then we’re just not on the same wavelength buddy. “Shoe-Bop” is probably my favourite cut from this thing, a wistful tale of factory girls and more innocent times gone by. “It’s A Lovely Day” and “Hurts So Bad” work as a closing duet, each offsetting the other and providing clear-eyed sadness with the pop arrangement to bring just a little sniffle up there.
I can describe these songs, but they need to be experienced. Truly. This is music unlike any other, seemingly prescient (you can’t imagine Camera Obscura or Belle and Sebastian without these guys), and yet standing apart from everything. There’s a certain poetic irony to the fact that these guys never made it big at all, and are arguably the most hipsterish thing I’ve reviewed so far. I quite like the implied (only by me, but I’m running with it) subtext that these guys were such a perfect form of pop that nobody could take it, and they were shunned. Which is a shame, but in true hipster fashion, I can’t help but feel that these guys are a legendary secret that you feel immensely honoured to know.
Also, that band name is really weird. I’d love to know the story behind that (but fittingly, there is nothing out there on these guys).
HIPSTER RATING TIME: this EP is vinyl-only, and worth a fair amount (easily my most valuable vinyl record). I found a blog that had the files to these songs, but it got taken down. Every aspect of this band sort of seems geared, in some way or another, to a hipsterish cult; Sarah Brown has a very modest following, John Peel was some kind of Archbishop of the Unknown, and the nature of the band (unironic sad pop), to me at least, is hipster personified. Aggressively hipsterish. This is the most unashamedly hipster thing I have ever cast my eye on, and so on a scale of “Twa Toots” to “Twa Toots”, I rate it… well, take a wild guess.
Words: Declan Cochran