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The Shortwave Set

The Debt Collection
Yahoo Music (September 2005)

As one door closes, another opens. When the Beta Band announced their dissolution late last year, it seemed that a particular brand of dreamy, lo-fi psychedelia had died with them. Little did anyone realise that three card-carrying charity shop enthusiasts from south east London were busy with their own take on cut'n'paste wonderment.

Andrew Petitt, David Farrell and Swedish singer Ulrike Bjornse apparently spent years trawling the second hand emporia of the capital to find the flotsam and jetsam that makes up this glorious debut album. And like The Avalanches before them, they've assembled an impeccably cool library of dusty gems: armfuls of French pop records, banjos, bicycle bells, something called an omnichord, and a love of drifting, eccentric pop not seen since St Etienne hung out in caffs.

In their cosy fantasy world, the trio call what they've created Victorian Funk, the term supposedly denoting a collage of incongruous elements. In reality, they're simply the latest hipsters to fuse 40s, 50s and 60s sounds and samples with psychedelic wooziness and state of the art cut ups and beats. They frequently wander along in the wake of The Avalanches and the Beta Band, happy to recall the head-spinning genius of both. But just as frequently the trio offer a sudden burst of poppy inventiveness that marks them out as more than mere copyists.

"Is It Any Wonder?" rides on - of all things - an Englebert Humperdink piano sample, skirting the tasteful dinner party territory of "Felt Mountain", but really starts to shine when the trio harmonise like religious zealots replete with the joy of blind faith. "Repeat To Fade" is similarly blessed-out, rattling tambourines and low key electronics giving way to a chorus that so gorgeously hippyish it all but strings flowers in your hair and mouths "I love you" at a distant rose-tinted, prism'd camera.

The mood remains fairly static - ie becalmed surreality - the record floating gently onwards, lazily exploring odd corners and uncovering long forgotten delights. "Head To Fill" is probably what Stina Nordenstam would come up with were she ever kidnapped by electronica-loving Quakers. The seven minute plus "In Your Debt" progresses from bird song to soft acoustics and half-dreamt sound shimmers - accordions, old car horns - like Lee and Nancy in kaftans. "Yr Room" actually sees Bjornse stop the haunting lilt of the song several times, claiming some unseen problem, when of course it all sounds perfect.

In a parallel universe, this is what the Mercury Shortlist would be full of. Curious, tiny, starbursts of invention, wonderfully out of step with fashion yet still effortlessly of its time. And this, you suspect, is merely the beginning for The Shortwave Set. Not quite the record of the year, but certainly flying high.


Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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