In my review of the Beatnik Filmstars’ latest album In Great Shape, I wrote that one of the reasons why I didn’t mention them in my reviews as much as I do Boyracer and Guided by Voices, despite the fact that I hold all three bands in equally high esteem, is that the music that the individual Filmstars made with during the band’s seven-year hiatus wasn’t good enough to uphold their legacy. Shortly after the review was posted, I received a MySpace message from Filmstars guitarist Tim Rippington that half-jokingly said, “I hope that my band wasn’t one of those dodgy solo projects you were referring to!” The message made me feel bad, but not bad enough to fully retract what I wrote. As much as I liked his other band the Forest Giants’ debut In Sequence, I knew that it didn’t hold a candle to any of the Filmstars records I owned. Two months after I wrote that review, the Giants' new album Welcome to the Mid-West appeared in my mailbox — and from the very first listen, I promptly started eating my words.
The most common criticism that I’ve seen leveled against In Great Shape is that it doesn’t bring the noise like previous Beatnik Filmstars records did. I don’t have a problem with that, but I could see why others would. If you are one of those people, though, you definitely need to pick up Welcome to the Mid-West, as it is the most massive-sounding record any Filmstar has been involved with since 1993's Laid-Back and English. Every instrument is liberally coated in distortion and reverb. Between Tim’s layered guitars and bassist Ruth Cochrane’s busy playing, many of the songs sound like they’re being played by 10 people instead of four. However, Mid-West has none of the arty tomfoolery that disrupts the average Filmstars album. The Forest Giants state on their website that “the idea behind the album was to make an old-fashioned 10-song record with all proper-length songs, no weirdo fillers, [and] one overall sound.” They definitely succeeded. This album boasts a concision and consistency that can go toe-to-toe against similar noise-pop juggernauts like the Wedding Present’s Seamonsters and Yo La Tengo’s Painful.
Like those two albums, many of Welcome to the Mid-West’s songs explore relationship woes with plainspoken reserve. The rhyme schemes are facile (“Everything is on fire/Falling apart at the seams/Everyone is a liar/Nothing is quite what it seems”), but the hooks do most of the talking anyway. “So You Think You’re Unhappy?” is the album’s first standout, a slice of heavenly electro-pop in which Tim mocks an ex for not having moved on yet from their breakup. “Why Wait” is the kind of song that Boyracer could knock out in their sleep, which is a compliment. Three verses and 100 seconds is all the band needs to get the song stuck in your head. The mosh-worthy three-chord grind of “Planes Fly Overhead”’s lives up to its name by sounding like it was recorded in an airplane hangar. The album isn’t all strum und drang, though. On the “Dear John” ballad “The Message,” Paula Knight’s cheesy organs and sweet voice are placed front and center. A few tracks later, Tim and Paula sing the love song “Stars” together: “Let’s go to live in where the stars shine, darling...I know you can’t stand it anymore.” His unsteady croon and her pitch-perfect sigh sound great together, and I’d like to hear them harmonize more on future Forest Giants material.
Since I received Welcome to the Mid-West in the mail, I’ve listened to it at least twice a day. I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone who reads this, whether you’re a Beatnik Filmstars or not. I wouldn’t have been as dismayed about the Filmstars’ hiatus as I was if I had known that I’d get TWO great bands out of it in the long run. This foot doesn’t taste too good in my mouth, but the Forest Giants certainly sound good to my ears!
Artist Website: www.forestgiants.co.uk
Label Website: www.cherryademusic.co.uk