For longer than most would want to think about, if you were in the market for the best in whipsmart, hyper-melodic guitar pop with heaps of character and deft songwriting touches, you’d more than likely end up in one of two places: Fortuna POP! or Slumberland. Having long been a pair of reassuringly reliable signposts to great records, their team-up for split EP Continental Drift promises to be the kind of transatlantic battle where everyone wins. But with theory and reality sometimes getting askew, does it live up to that promise?
For Slumberland (and by extension the good ol’ US of A) come Wildhoney and Mercury Girls. The former firstly bring ‘Horror Movie’, a bright and charming shuffle that by song’s end has morphed into a heady wall of chiming guitars and dreamy, breathy vocals. But beneath the sugary exterior lies embittered undertones, with Lauren Shusterich repeatedly asking “who do you think you are?” with the kind of tone that suggests it’s accompanied with a colossal side-eye. Baltimore’s finest also provide the record’s closer, ‘T L (Reprisal)’ an understated strum successfully highlighting the band’s shoegaze influences that ends with a subtly dark, motorik groove peppered with guitar squalls. Mercury Girls on the other hand bring a window into what would happen if Alvvays’ pop nous came via the powerpop genius of the likes of The Wannadies and Makthaverskan. ‘Holly’ provides a dream start to the EP, but it’s ‘Beverly’ where they hit their stride. On it, their bright, uptempo style converges perfectly with a bittersweet strand of songwriting. It’s the headrush soundtrack of a head-out-the window roadtrip with all your friends, albeit the one that marks the end of your last summer together – a simultaneous fist in the air and lump in the throat.
With our American cousins bringing such ample fire power, what has Fortuna POP! brought for Blighty? The answer is some big guns of his own. Tigercats have always been a band intent on self-development, with the scrappy exuberance of their début album giving way to last year’s well-crafted, more mature Mysteries. ‘Sidney St’ offers an extension of the latter, percussive and shimmering and with its repeated, singalong imploring to “open up! Open up!”. Though if that presents a last look over the shoulder at the past, then ‘Rent Control’ offers a glimpse into the future. More in line with something off the last Titus Andronicus album than their own, it’s the sound of a band letting its hair down and railing against the world, with an end-of-song breakdown seeing Duncan Barrett’s vocals effervesce to an impassioned roar. Thrilling and muscular, it offers an intriguing look into what they might offer next. So onto The Spook School, who continue to charm all and sundry with their relatable tales of alienation and self-identity and offer hope and reassurance to the disaffected. ”Sometimes I Hide From Everybody’ is a typically kaleidoscopic burst of self-dissection, a rocket-propelled journey through the human condition that gallops towards the final titular chant. ‘Gone Home’, fronted by an infectious guitar line and bassist Anna Cory’s warm tones, does an equally admirable job of exploring our collective psyche but doing so in a more measured way than ‘Sometimes I Want…’s frustrated fury.
With Fortuna POP! announcing its imminent closure in recent weeks (and through serendipity both of the label’s bands have lyrical cues about parting which could be construed as relating to it – Spook School’s ‘Sometime I Want…’ starts with “everyone’s leaving, and I guess I should do the same”, while Tigercats’ ‘Rent Control’ features the line “your friends are talking of emigrating”) there’s an added degree of poignancy to this EP. But if the long goodbye starts here then the label faces the future with its head held high and a determined step out the door rather than a whimper. Thanks to it and Slumberland Continental Drift offers a collection of songs to make your heart soar and your feet move, like all the best pop music should, and the sheer number of ideas contained in its 8 track, half-hour duration is testament to the way the labels and bands have responded to their self-imposed challenge.
So is it, as the initial promise suggested, a transatlantic challenge where everyone wins? Well yes, but it’s also so much more besides.
Buy: Continental Drift EP