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The Bitter Springs

Vespertine

Despite high praise from European critics and an association with Vespertine, one of England’s most interesting new indie labels, the Middlesex-based Bitter Springs are almost unknown in the States. I’m not sure why. Like the cultishly adored Belle and Sebastian, the Springs make literate, off-center, and often gorgeous guitar-pop. Both bands have released three albums over the past few years—a revelatory debut and two follow-ups. And like B&S mainman Stuart Murdoch, Springs vocalist-guitarist Simon Rivers sings about an ever-changing cast of lost souls with a rough-edged directness. But maybe the Springs are too noisy. They have, after all, always interrupted their usually easy-on-the-ears mix of guitar, piano, and violin with episodes of lurching, bilious discord. Take “The Ballad of Little Stubby Fingers” on the new Benny Hill’s Wardrobe: The song is a dense tangle of wiggy sci-fi sound effects, icy keyboard washes, and distant, delay-ridden guitars that’s both dazzlingly noisy and downright nightmarish. So maybe the Springs are too frightening. Or, maybe, they’re simply too bitter. On Wardrobe, Murdoch-like, Rivers can’t stop singing about sex. But unlike Murdoch’s characters, who breathlessly snog in the stairwell, kiss for practice, and sometimes just cuddle, Rivers’ people are incompetent, unfulfilled, and guilt-ridden. Album opener “Weekend at Your Parents” baldly proclaims the narrator’s sexual ineptitude (“Spent the night/In your room/And like the dawn/I’ll come too soon”), “Grand Prix Driver” recounts an unsatisfying, sordid tryst (“Your wife’s in the grandstand/With your best friend Billy/He’s shafting her in the/Royal box/She’s bored as the rest of us”), and “Via Sex” describes a bit of S&M gone embarrassingly wrong (“Tied to the banister…/Thought I’d die of shame/When the ambulance men came”). Discomfiting, rancorous, and almost always excellent, Wardrobe is perfect listening if you’re feeling really sinister.—Leonard Roberge