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Records: Individual Fruit Pie's Lay-by-Lullaby

By David Auerbach

Without this album, you'd be hard-pressed to prove this band exists. They released an EP on Connecticut's own Dot Dot Dash, proud carrier of the Philistines Jr. and the Zambonis, over two years ago. That increasingly commercial arbiter of taste, Alternative Press, trashed the EP, but since AP just stuck Jane's Addiction on their cover, their credibility is shot. Now the only reference I can find to the new album is, ironically enough, on MTV's "Out from Underground" page, where they're plugged right beside Belle and Sebastian.

The point is that there is no place for Individual Fruit Pie in the American scene today, especially from a bunch of English émigrés like these. In a country where Archers of Loaf and Palace Music smugly dominate the indie press, a band drawing influence from only the Tindersticks and first-album Orange Juice have a snowball's chance in Hell of making it. Hooking up with decidedly untrendy Ultra Vivid Scenester Kurt Ralske for production won't help matters either. (Even potentially successful bands like Lotion inevitably flop when Ralske produces them.)

But I love Orange Juice's first album, and I would gladly die for the Tindersticks, so this album makes me quite happy. Lead singer J.C. has Tinderguy Stuart Staples' voice, but his phrasings are straight from Edwyn Collins' throat. The songs are from the same land of romance as the Tindersticks', but the band plays in the sloppy, Byrds-like chime-o-rama of O.J.'s You Can't Hide Your Love Forever--the opener, "Comfort and Discomfort," is the Siamese twin of "Consolation Prize." They even throw in two dead-on stabs at Orange Juice's bizarre and geeky funk ("Serf's Up Auction" and "Lost Weak End").

They may not sound terribly unique, except when J.C.'s personality asserts itself with a taste for pretty awful puns (a line about getting "plastered in Paris" is the only one I'll subject you to here), but it's impossible to listen to the entire album without sensing that something very strange is going on. A trace of archness creeping into the unshakable vocals? A tempo that's slightly too zippy? A suddenly inappropriate drum sound? All is revealed on the last track, "Practically Man and Wife." It's a beautiful, sedate morning-after song, but its seemingly simple melody is overloaded with every possible hook that will fit into the rhythm by guitar, bass, or cello. It's not obvious, at least not until the two-minute coda, but IFP are reworking all the little bits of a pop song--on second listen the odd references in the other tunes jump out, and you realize you didn't recognize them before because they're all in the wrong places.

Belle and Sebastian became comparative superstars a few months after I reviewed them here, much to my embarrassment. But IFP will not succumb to such a fate, because their project is too knowing to be passed off as pure pop. This is as perverse and revisionist an album as that old Orange Juice debut, although you have to have an unhealthy interest in modern pop music to appreciate that. But I'm sure the band members are very satisfied with themselves.

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