Saint Etienne`s I’ve Been Trying To Tell You finds the trio travelling through their past. Perhaps for a pandemic minute taking stock. Fixing fragments of their musical archive to a more modern framework. Delivering an album that’s a dream-like drift – it put me in mind of Ian Hodgson`s magical Moon Wiring Club – a sort of head-nodding “Hauntological” haze, `cept swapping an occult world of `60s and `70s BBC Sci-Fi and creepy Public Information Broadcasts for samples from Continental, Good Humour, Built On Sand, Sound Of Water, and The Misadventures Of…. Beat-making their way through their own back catalogue. But not block-rocking, more reprised the morning after. Deconstructing their beloved breathless pure pop, of innocence and innocence lost, and reducing it to loops, and snippets, of lyrical hooks, sighs and mantras. There are no songs as such. Instead you get sunset sambas, Cafe del Mar ready cuts, complete with field recorded seabirds. All accompanied by considerable bottom-end boom. Music Again moves with a slow, measured Portishead-esque melancholy ache. Little K cops its cues from, say, Massive Attack. A pretty piano, tinkling ivories, teardrops atop a dub b-line. Full of phased sounds somewhere between a prayer and a church bell.
On Blue Kite the melody runs backward, like a broken fairground ride, the familiar made unfamiliar – similar to something “ambient” on PAN – while the muffled rhythm is the rumble of a rave in the distance. A party in the house next door. I Remember It Well features “found footage”, Beach Boys harmonies, and epic, tremolo`d guitar. Twanging away like the secret love child of Hank Marvin and Johnny Marr.
As the album, and the process, proceeds it becomes increasingly bruised, as if bottles have been opened, and emptied. The intoxication inviting spectres, ghosts of days and night passed, to join the dance down Memory Lane. Entranced, for example, by Escalade`s dark drones and rippling reverb. Acoustic strum and sitar / tanpura-esque buzz are what make Broad River run. The mood, One Doved-up, and coming down – a Tomorrow Never Knows stuck with Yesterday’s regrets – while the closing Hello Holly is all whistling winds, and bucolic laughter.
As a set it`s simultaneously suffused with a subliminal sense of seductive nostalgia, while successfully reinventing the band as something new. More grown up, and yet younger. Still young at heart. Shit there’s only so long that you can prance around, ironic, tongue-in-cheek, pundits, on Top Of The Pops. They, Bob, Pete, and Sarah, must all be in their mid-50s. Kind of, but not quite, too accessible to be totally “avant”, it`s something that should find the band a fresh audience.
For older fans – i.e. me – its the aural equivalent of an evening spent with postcards and photographs falling from a forgotten scrapbook. There’s a touch of sadness, yeah, but not they’re not wallowing in it. Rather recognizing that life moves on – pretty fucking quickly – and that friends and friendships, faces and places change. Stopping, for just a second, and regarding these things, keepsakes and moments, for the treasure that they truly are.
Saint Etienne`s I’ve Been Trying To Tell You is out now on Heavenly Recordings.