Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Popup: A Time And A Place


(Cover art not available at press time)
A Time and a Place
Scottish Arts Council &

In their two years of existence, Popup has received tons (and tons) of critical praise, turned down record label contracts, Wowed audiences, played backyards, and engaged in a lot of partying 'til dawn. All these things were not done in order, but done all at once! Most of you probably haven't heard them (yet). These fine Glaswegians are familiar but different from anything you've heard. Most obvious is they're a Scottish rock 'n' roll band. A Time and a Place is their debut. They are at times melodic postpunk, some full charge roar, pub sing alongs, nods to some fellow better known Scottish bands, and Velvets minimalist approach. That's a lot, but one has to really struggle to think about their influences because Popup can best be described as unique. Their music is their own and it's hard to call it anything except Scottish rock since it touches on things but not enough to make one think "they sound like _____."

As if prophetical, A Time and a Place is filled with songs that occupy different times and places with little connection to each other. Each song is different and stands there, pulling one in to listen out of being catchy but not categorized easily. Michael Cross and Nicholas Giudici's guitar and bass on "Love Triangle" recalls the perfect synergy that Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook had at the height of their creativety with New Order, but without effects, extra pedals, and studio manipulation, thus achieving a pure approach more characteristic of Joy Division. Tracks like "Poison Apple" take an uptempo approach that can only make one think of their fellow countrymen Franz Ferdinand with a more tongue-in-cheek attitude playing a loud singalong at a pub after using up their free drink tickets along with a few pints from the patrons. Songs like "Pure" take a minimal vocals and electric guitar only approach with a romantic barbed whit from lead singer Damian Gilhooly that could have been a long lost ode from Lou Reed with lyrics like "You're purer than sarcasm...You're purer than bullshit." "Chinese Burn," a song that's already available as a single, has the full on guitar assault and shout of The Pixies, but with a faster guitar chop more like early British punk, and uses breaks that keep the same tempo but a more developed drumbeat in comparison to the slow then loud/slow then loud formula.

The narrative "Pull the Fuse" is a low fi "Death Valley '69" with the dischordant fight of Damian's 4 chords that are almost antimusical coupled with his vocal arguments against drummer/vocalist Adrienne Giudici, whose screams fire back at his own equally. "Lucy, What Are You Trying to Say?" has earned a comparison to The Proclaimers for its acoustic rhythms and energy, but that's inaccurate since Popup turn songs inside out instead of just carrying a theme. Other songs show an incredible lyrical talent and invention like "The Saviour of Judas McDade" that are well deserved compliments to both Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, but offer up shared male/female vocals and a deeper melody which explodes in a chaninsaw guitar feedback that communicates a stronger vulnerability as if admitting one's hopelessness. Out of all the raw craftiness on A Time and a Place, "Stagecoach" is a smiling departure with it's infectious verses sung in the round with Damian and Adrienne that are sweet like perfect formed sugar crystals instead of the lumpy rehash that's the common thread of mainstream pop.

Although distinct and with variation, A Time and a Place from Glasgow's Popup is well rooted, well thought out, but completely new. With it's different tempos and some sharp contrasts between them, this is not something a record company would want to put out since it's not packagable. It's too original. The fact is that Popup can do uptempo, abrasive songs and meaningful slow ones and both are done well. Thus, it's not something that a record company can say "They're this" or "They're that." A Time and a Place was funded by The Scottish Arts Council and SWG3 a studio performance space in Glasgow. Therefore, the circulation is narrow reaching. However, it's both optimistic and disheartening to know that certain countries view their musicians as artists and an important cultural resource while others see them as something that can be packaged, imaged, and sold into whatever conglomerate media companies want people to like and listen to.

This band is uncompromising. They've turned down label offers, have sold music for commercials and as a result, have 100% of the royalties since they own the publishing rights. Had they been signed, half of those rights would have belonged to someone else. Therefore, Popup is thriving on what they've earned completely on their own, with the only support being from a government who values art. That's been enough. They were recently in the U.S. for South by Southwest where they played around 20 times to new fans and praising critics alike. They've made converts with their live performances, but Damian and Adrienne also play together as an acoustic duo, which I'm told is priceless. We can only hope they keep touring shores distant from their homeland.

In a time when record companies are either not making the billions they want off the hard work of others and even some small indie labels are losing their ground because people are copying illegally and their bottom line is going south since there wasn't much of one to begin with, Popup is succeeding as the true DIY band. Instead of taking the road less traveled, they carved out one of their own and they're quite happy on it. Maybe it was tough individuals like them who kept the Roman Empire from getting into Scotland. Even if they find a label stoked enough to want them as they are without molding an image onto them, they'll probably still rock out your backyard party even after the world discovers their genius.

A Scottish brogue, a female drummer who also sings, some loud guitars that convey The Fall and maybe even Stuart Adamson, some uptempo acoustic numbers the tune to XTC, a rousing pub feel, and some slow, bare boned raw VU atmosphered tunes. They're never monotonous, but up front and raw enough that their songs demand to be heard and once they do, you're hooked. They are the DIY band of the download age with complete independence and are a much better band for it. Rock, pub, pop, Popup!

A Year in a Comprehensive filmed by STV


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