Live at the Rum Puncheon

Swansea Sound

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Live at the Rum Puncheon Review

by Tim Sendra

The roots of the indie pop supergroup Swansea Sound run deep, all the way back to when Hue Williams was fronting the Pooh Sticks and Amelia Fletcher sang on their records and at occasional live show. Though the two stayed in touch over the years, the impetus to work together again came when Fletcher's band the Catenary Wires was sidelined by the COVID lockdowns and the band's Rob Pursey (who was also in a number of bands with Fletcher including Heavenly) wrote a few songs and felt they would be good for Williams to sing. He agreed and the wheels were set in motion. The working conditions were as follows: Pursey wrote the songs and recorded the guitar and bass, Ian Button (also a member of the Wires and leader of the fabulous Papernut Cambridge) added drums on his computer, and Fletcher and Williams sang the vocals, with the latter recording on a phone in his cupboard. The results are quite good, alternating between snarky, punk-influenced rave-ups, rockers with a wicked sense of humor, and the occasional indie pop gem with some real feels involved. Quite like the Pooh Sticks, in other words. Live at the Rum Puncheon works as a peppy exercise in nostalgia as well as a bracing slap across the face of modern indie delivered by people who know better. Pursey's songs are suitably hooky, Williams is in fine voice (despite being sequestered), Fletcher shows why she is so revered, and Button manages to give the drums a lot of pop even though they were basically played on a typewriter. The band takes swipes at the music biz ("Corporate Indie Band," "I Sold My Soul on eBay"), smacks down fascists and their sympathizers ("Freedom of Speech"), and looks back in wonder on "Rock & Roll Void" and "The Pooh Sticks" It's sunny good fun, with a knife twist. Even the frivolous C-86 toss-off "Je ne Sais Quoi" is a pitched romantic battle. Good as these songs are, the album really works best when they drop the politics and laughs in favor of tender emotions and vocal harmonies. The lovely "Let It Happen" and "Pasadena" show off Williams' sensitive side nicely; "Swansea Sound" whips up some staticky guitar noise, but at its heart it's a melancholy ballad that comes complete with lovely harmonies from Fletcher and guest vocalist Catrin James. The album's best song combines the noise and sweetness, politics and feelings, into one brilliant show of their strengths. Williams' heartfelt vocals, the stunning backing harmonies (done in part by members of the Crystal Furs), merrily grungy guitars, and words that fill the soul with warmth combine into something magical. The whole album is something of a magic trick that comes about as close to resurrecting the Pooh Sticks as possible, which is an admirable goal and close to an indie pop miracle.

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