The affable Colin Clary and his bands – the Smittens and Let’s Whisper, primarily – might seem the epitome of “twee” to many listeners: gentle, sweet. Yet rather than take that as an insult, Clary seems to embrace the notion; even, at times, to turn the aesthetic into a countercultural call for a particular way of life, built on openness, tenderness, peace.
As optimistic as his music can be, it’s always struck me that there’s a deep strain of sadness or at least melancholy within it. I don’t think it would work so well without it. So, the idea of “twee blues” makes sense – even though, as a musical idea, twee blues might seem an oxymoron.
Twee Blues, Vol. 1 (Wee Pop) isn’t a cross between indie-pop and blues, exactly, but it is a version of the former with instruments and sounds pulled from music that’s somewhere sort-of getting relatively closer towards music that touches the edges of the blues genre. For the LP Clary has pulled together a band – Brad Searles and Brad San Martin – that manages to add some eclectic touches while staying focused and together. There’s slide guitar, little horns and things, and occasional nods towards the folksier of Neil Young’s work, or a variety of “singer-songwriters”. Yet it also sounds like a typically melodic, clever, in-love-with-music Colin Clary indie-pop record.
The first line of the first song: “It’s hard to find out not everybody wants to be your friend.” Coming from a singer who often presents himself as everyone’s friend, it comes across as confession. The line is delivered like advice to someone younger, but also a reaching out, a longing to hear that a friend is OK. If the song seems light in tone, a friendly message from one person to another, underneath it is not.
Beyond the personal, it also carries an acknowledgement of life’s fragility: “things break down.”
There’s intentional complexity of feeling/sound here, but also songs that are intentionally direct and even repetitive. Clary will often take a sentiment and repeat it like a mantra or lesson. Some examples – “guess I gotta say it / don’t think it out”; “Give it some time she said / you’ve gotta give it some time”; “hey I got a notion / ooh / Atlantic Ocean”, “would you love me forever / baby baby please”.
There’s rumination going on here. But often, the songs are swift and sweet like the Smittens’, with a sense of humor and, of course, a music collector’s reference points. There’s a song that nicks a Fleetwood Mac lyric and a love song that begins, “you’re the DJ / I’m the rapper”. I love the confident, playful announcement, “I wanna be in the bad girls club”, from the song “Bad Girls Club”. That song has a certain ‘50s greaser garage-rock-ish tone that emerges also on “She’s a Motorcycle” and “Boogiepop (Don’t Stop)”.
Those put together with references to farm animals, wizards and album-cover models show that Colin Clary has developed his own personal language of what he thinks is cool, as we’d expect all interesting artists to.