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Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Pearlfishers and the cheap music that doesn't sound cheap anymore

There was a time when it was possible to hear how much had been spent on a record. The records with big budgets, those that had been paid for with an advance from major record companies, sounded more polished, deeper, more resonant than the record that had been done in the cheap studio, let alone in the garage. They might not always have been inspired but they were usually more congenial to listen to than their low budget competitors. You knew the difference, much as you might have done if you'd slipped into the passenger seat of an expensive German car immediately after a cheap Japanese one.

Listening to Open Up Your Colouring Book by the Pearlfishers it strikes me you can't make that distinction anymore.

The Pearlfishers' records are the work of David Scott, a writer, musician and lecturer, who made "Up With The Larks", which is one of my favourite records of the last five years. It was the kind of record which sounds like a hit to people who don't have the first idea of what actually makes a record a hit. People like me.

Unlike most music made by indies (if that term still has any meaning) Scott's abjures rough manners, aspiring to polish rather than grit. If you were going to try to plot him on an taste map you might show him in the vicinity of Prefab Sprout and Jim Webb. His music can sound a bit precious, as if it's been inspired by an afternoon visit to an arts cinema rather than real life, but that's the risk involved in reaching for a certain delicacy. Also that might just be a prejudice I've placed there because I know he's a lecturer.

Colouring Book is his new one and, given Scott's circumstances, which are the same as the overwhelming majority of musicians, it seems reasonable to assume it was made on a budget which wouldn't stretch to unlimited studio time, the services of legions of session musicians, the input of top mixers and mastering engineers flown in from America in order to increase the chances of radio play.

In 2014 major record companies still spend sums of money they don't have to spend because they can't bear to think they left anything un-done. But the truth is that nowadays anybody can layer backing vocals, get instruments in tune, edit precisely, erase tracks that aren't working and add some strings; you don't need to have Universal paying the bills.

I'm guessing Open Up Your Colouring Book was a fairly cheap record to make. But here's the thing. It doesn't sound like one. I think you might like it. If you don't, I'll buy it off you.