Sing-Sing - The Joy Of Sing-Sing
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
It’s very odd: sitting down to write this piece, I realise that I pretty much know this album entirely off by heart, having listened to it that many times in the past two and a bit years. It never once crops up in conversation though and I never feel compelled to mention it to anyone when they ask me for recommendations. Though everyone I know that’s heard it loves it, they never bring it up either. Time for redemption? Go on then.
Sing-Sing are Emma Anderson, formerly guitarist and backing vocals in Lush, and Lisa O’Neill, former session vocalist for various London indie types. Having gestated between 1998 and 2001 with a series of singles on various indie labels, their debut album (this one) came out on Alan McGee’s Poptones label in October 2001. Admittedly, the auspices weren’t spectacular. ‘Featuring the ex-guitarist from Lush’ wasn’t much of a buzz phrase in 2001, and, before the Hives turned up, neither was “out now on Poptones”, and the album predictably sank without a trace, as most records on Poptones’ severely overloaded roster at the time were wont to do.
Enter the bargain bucket of Beanos Of Croydon, summer 2002. During a refit, they are forced to sell a load of records to clear, and bundle up random bunches of five to sell for 50p a bundle. Thus little ol’ Lush-liker me came across The Joy Of Sing-Sing and fell upon it ravenous wolf style. I take it home and very, very little else gets a look that summer outside of my constant rotation of this and that old favourite, “When The F**k Are You Going To Get A Job?” (trad. Arr.)
The Joy Of Sing-Sing was made for this. It’s a long album, around 47 minutes including hidden track, and it feels that way. Tracks don’t really blend into one another, it feels like there’s no particular order to them. The opening and closing songs (“Everything and ‘I Can See You’) feel like they’re in the right place. All the other songs just sort of wind up in between. This works. Sometimes, it’s good when albums take up time, and a key part of The Joy… is that there is absolutely no filler on this album. None at all, not one weak track in any regard.
There’s 12 songs (13 including hidden track), and a permanent air of detachment form reality. The songs themselves are electro-inflected indie-pop, like Saint-Etienne but with more tunes—peculiar hazy visions of imagined summers, frolicking in fields while the sun shines, sitting by the water’s edge once the moon comes out; skanked-up girls living in a nauseous daze while the world goes on around them; illicit lovers planning night elopements to Paris (perhaps Amsterdam) by train; friends united against the world, staring up into space, for what are the stars? The atmosphere of the record, the way it fills time and space with these unassuming pop masterpieces is quite incredible… a little dream, as it were.
When they’re feeling slow and introspective, Sing-Sing are divine. “Everything” is the flag bearer, the sound of an antique music box gives way to some slowly plucked vertiginous guitar, spiralling and winding round. The chorus just gets a slow synth fade for backing, as O’Neill drawls “It’s a lie, everything they said to hurt me, at least I know myself and what I do”, while in the background Anderson airily trills the lines with slightly higher notes. There’s a little drum roll, then the synths take over in the Goldfrapp-UFO style, except pre-Goldfrapp making this acceptable. It’s a slow, slumbering song, a nice gentle start to the album. Later, on there’s “Me & My Friend”, a bit louder but just as slow, the synths clashing and crashing more but the mood is still gentle and breezy, as O’Neill sings of “no boys, no boys, only our soft skin—She’s my friend, true and stubborn… yeah, she’s my friend, together again, beautiful friend, holding my hand…” Guitars slide about gracefully in the back, loud but never threatening, as an organ oscillates lightly underneath it all. Vocals get laid atop one another, indecipherable layers all. Lisa O’Neill’s voice has that kind of slow, dusty quality to it—never particularly over-dramatic, but sonorous, reassuring, perfectly suited to the slow, lazy synth sounds that permeate the album. Sing-Sing are a band who know how to take things slowly, how to create their own little world, just them and these noises, a big cool lake in the mountains, Lisa’s voice drifts over the top, Emma backing it from afar. It’s gorgeous, this heavy-drummed, synth-coated haze, but never background music or repetitive, the kind of music it’s so easy to just lose oneself in, just sit dead still and bathe in it.
But that’s not all they do. Sing-Sing are also black-belt million-dan experts in the art of Bedroom Indie Floorfillers, the sort of songs you can only ever dance to in your own little space but which you dance to like nothing else, the songs that get you bendy-kneed and head-swishing, the songs that make you forget that when you try to click your fingers it just comes off as a mildly skanky rubbing motion. There’s “You Don’t Know”, with its keyboard clatter, teasing bass, echoed guitars and the drums, almost pleading with you to handclap along, swinging along through the first verse before the guitar goes racing away in the chorus as you skid across the bedroom floor, shimmying as though you had an arse worthy of the name. There’s “Feels Like Summer”, the handclaps right up the front, as O’Neill patronises you to within an inch of your life, vamped up and loving it: “Everybody says it’s true, I got myself tied up with you… baby, you’re in my way and you’re spoiling the view”, hips and torso go swaying like you’re not in Croydon, it isn’t raining and you haven’t got several more important things to do. And all the while, the handclap goes on. There’s the trumpet on “Far Away From Love” that sounds like it’s escaped after five years in a stalag run by The Lighthouse Family. Most of all, maybe, there’s “Tegan”, an urgent crashing keyboard loop and skittering full-powered drums shunt the song onwards, and an irresistible backing vocal, the Sing-Sing girls twisting their voices into some kind of distorted Sirenical howl, twisting and curling its way through the track like smoke among the chimney tops. A big distorted guitar solo in the middle, it goes quiet: “And no-one warned me, it wouldn’t last—why didn’t anybody tell me it all moves so fast?” Then back, back to those twin towers of the drums and the keyboard (I am continually interrupting the typing to air drum, synth, and backing-singer-hand-extend), the song pulses irresistibly on, this huge pop juggernaut, battering its way through all the reserves till we are left with just the girls’ voices, lifting and swirling away at the end.
So, why do you need this album? Well, in many ways, you don’t. It’s pretty much conceivable your life would hardly be any worse without this in it. On the other hand—I meant what I said about there not being a bad song on the album, but furthermore, there’s never anything less than a very, very good one. Sing-Sing are a fantastic band, a-two-good-friends-locking- themselves-away-and-seeing-what-they-come-up-with experiment gone horribly right. What’s more, they’re still going, entirely self-funded now at www.sing-sing.co.uk, from where you can buy most of their back catalogue and their most recent EP, their first work since the album. Find them out, and adore them, because sometimes one does need reminding of how very good being very good can be.