Monday, February 23, 2009

Looper. Up a Tree (Sub Pop, 1999)

"Someone had got up and gone to the moon/ And nothing else was more impossible than that."

I bought Looper’s Up A Tree used from a record-seller in Madison, Wisconsin notorious among young ladies in the area for his creepy offer with a wink to “zip it open” every time you bought a CD. Creep factor of the salesman notwithstanding, Up A Tree turned out to be a sound investment. I listened to it through twice the day I bought it on the road to Milwaukee with my then beau (now husband), where I can only think it was the mellow beats and infuriatingly catchy hooks that tranced us into getting so tanked at an Irish pub we were forced to leave the car on the street and find a hotel for the night (insert plug for the historic Pfister Hotel here).

Looper began as a side project of the other Stuart from Belle & Sebastian. Stuart David and his wife Karn hooked up with a couple of friends from the Glasgow School of Art and fed their need for sunny electropop with Looper. Living up to the band’s name, each song on Up A Tree (their first full-length album) contains maddeningly charming loops you will find yourself humming long after the record ends (you’ve had fair warning). If you’ve heard A Space Boy Dream from The Boy With the Arab Strap, then you’ve got a pretty good idea of Looper’s general schtick.

The Treehouse intros with what I can only surmise are a bandmember’s kids waxing enthusiastic about (what else?) their treehouse, which by the sound of this little jam is the most awesome thing ever built by man. From here, we flow into the nostalgic Impossible Things #2, a sort of sickeningly Glaswegian fairytale of the impossibly twee courtship between Stuart David and his future wife. Perhaps as a palate cleanser, they then offer us "Burning Flies," seemingly about, well, burning flies on a beach.

An album standout, Festival ’95's lyrics pretty much sum up the sunshiney hopefulness that is Up A Tree: “There are some days that catch the light/As if someone's put a magic spell on them/So that all of these kind of ordinary things/Seem like magic things.” Saccharine? Maybe. But paired with an infectious bass line and harmonica/flute loops, by the end of the song, you’ll be reminiscing about your own “days like diamonds.”

Strap on your 1999 dancin’ shoes for the Ballad of Ray Suzuki. There’s nothing I could say that can improve upon this review from the You Tube video of the song: “This is fookin class tune. At the end of a good night out, when you should have had enough of all the things that make you bad, stick this on and go like a fucking nutter!”

"Dave the Moon Man" seems to pick up where David left off with "A Space Boy Dream," and "Quiet and Small" is a gentle lullaby complete with twinkling bells. If you’re into spoken-word jazz you might really enjoy "Columbo’s Car" (saxophone and all), but this is really the only track on this record I forward through (maybe because being jarred awake by a saxomophone after the last song is a bit of a hassle). Luckily, things take a turn for the soothing with "Up A Tree Again." And before you know it you’ve looped (get it?) back to the beginning with "Back to the Treehouse," a sweet piano rendering of the peppy hook from the intro, replete with Belle & Sebastian-esque children-at-a-playground backdrop.

All told, this record is a little ray of sunshine. Pop it in when you’re feeling blue, and I can guarantee by the end at least a little bit of your grim will have melted away.

-- Anneke Chy