November 06, 2003

Pearlfishers "Sky Meadows"

Pastoral: by definition , it means "Having the qualities of idealized country life, such as charming simplicity and a leasurely, carefree pace." It's a fitting adjective to describe Sky Meadows, the fourth album by Scotland's underrated The Pearlfishers. It's a shame that this wonderful Scottish group has not garnered the same amount of critical acclaim as bands like Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai or Arab Strap, because The Pearlfishers should be giving these lesser bands a run for their money--especially the bland Belle & Sebastian. Sadly, it will never happen, because The Pearlfishers are too good, too tranquil, too mellow to be in the same class as their fellow countrymen. Surprisingly, that's okay, because I'd really rather not ruin a good thing, nor would I want anything to put any kind of pressure on David Scott.

The Pearlfishers are more than a mere band, though; we're talking an orchestra of Polyphonic Spree size, but unlike Tim DeLaughter, Scott is not trying to flood the listener's soul with the aural beauty of an orchestra. Unlike bands like High Llamas, Scott's not trying to be retro; he's just trying to make a lovely pop record, and he's done that. In fact, I think he owes more to the era of 1973-1983 than he does to 1968. In fact, it's quite obvious that Scott understands exactly where Aztec Camera went wrong. Instead of overwhelming lovely pop songs with heavy arrangements, it's best to treat everything with a touch of restraint; Sky Meadows soars as high as High Land, Hard Rain, and Scott's singing is more than a little bit reminiscent of Roddy Frame.

Sky Meadow is an album of understated, unhurried beauty; it knows where it's going, and it's getting there slowly--too many flowers to smell, too many little nuances of nature to appreciate. Luckily, Scott never really overindulges in the things that make the album great; while Sky Meadows is inspired by the great late-60s albums of the Beach Boys and Burt Bacharach, you never get the feeling that they're hung-up on the era. Though "I Can't Believe You Met Nancy" references Nancy Sinatra, it's even more telling that they have a song called "Todd is God," a tribute to Todd Rundgren. The only problem with Sky Meadows is that once you really get into its groove, once you've become enraptured by its charms, it's over. Good things never last, it seems; enjoy the lovely "My Dad The Weatherfan," "Flora Belle," "Pantohorse" and the epic "Haricot Bean and Bill" while you can--and then, enjoy them again!

I will admit that I am a sucker for the baroque pop style, and thus it didn't really take much to sell me on Sky Meadows. If you like grown up, refined pop songs that have a sensible grasp of life in the country, then I suggest you seek out the comfort and beauty of Sky Meadows. It's a consistently strong album, every listen is a joy, and it's as pleasant and as lovely and as tranquil as a Scottish field on a clear, windy day. This is easily one of the nicest Scottish pop records I've heard all year.

--Joseph Kyle

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