Following the jaunty melancholy of sister EP There May Come a Time, It's Not the Words That You Say is the second 2012 release from Australian twee pop supergroup Bart & Friends. Centered around the songwriting of longtime indie pop stalwart Bart Cummings (formerly mainstay of the Cat's Miaow, Hydroplane, and many others), this loose collective was dormant for the better part of the 2000s, but re-emerged with renewed energy by the start of the 2010s. It's Not the Words That You Say emphasizes the collective mentality of the group with the surprise move of having Summer Cats vocalist Scott Stevens sing lead on all six of the short EP's tracks. Stevens takes the spotlight that was reserved for the softly powerful lead vocals of Black Tambourine's Pam Berry on the last EP, and along with noticeable improvements in recording quality, this sets It's Not the Words That You Say apart from the majority of Bart & Friends' discography. At their core, the songs are still very much in keeping with Cummings' style, melancholy and relatively short tunes that beam with as much hopefulness as they do heartbreak and owe equal musical debts to the chiming guitars of the Smiths and the jangly bristle of the Byrds or Love. "Hierarchy of Sorrows" begins with some high notes plucked on a Fender bass, beginning an autumnal pop song akin to the Go-Betweens with some otherworldly tones borrowed from Pet Sounds. A much more dour, self-conscious reworking of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" shares Bart & Friends' interesting approach to influence as well, with one foot firmly in the past -- with reverence to '50s and '60s pop -- and the other in a slightly less distant musical past of the C-86 movement. Stevens' shimmeringly sad vocals taking the forefront in these songs may alienate those who loved Pam Berry on the last EP, but they fit the wistful nature of the songs just as perfectly. It's also not the first time Stevens has sung lead for the never firmly positioned lineup of Bart & Friends. While the combination of a constant male vocal presence and advanced production takes these songs somewhat out of the lo-fi halcyon days of twee pop that former Bart & Friends releases have clung to, it also allows more space for the band to try new things and expand ever so slightly out of its early-'90s underground indie pop roots.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas