Under the radar for the last three years, Reading’s Pete & The Pirates have been stealthily gathering pace and fans, road-testing a brilliantly bittersweet pop concoction that’s not just another nabbing of Libertines, Strokes or Blur influences. Their debut album Little Death – a celebration and commiseration of teenage-hood’s giddy fumble for orgasmic release – was instead a Home Counties spin on the sublime guitar-pop of New Zealand’s legendary cult label Flying Nun (as in The Chills, The Clean, The Bats, Abel Tasmans and more). Patented in the mid-80s, it’s a sound both innately happy and intuitively sad, with simultaneously fragile and robust melody and harmony, entwined guitars that ping back and forth between spiky and jangly, and tightly meshed guitar/bass/drum patterns that retain a palpable feeling of space. There were hints, too, of Buzzcocks and The Undertones in this renaissance of so-called ‘perfect pop’. And now they’ve gone and perfected it even further.
For newcomers, there are two Petes among this quintet: bassist Pete Cattermoul and co-guitarist Pete Hefferan. But lead vocalist Tom Sanders is the band’s emotional heart and soul, with enough melodies at his disposal to also fuel his solo sideline, Tap Tap. But the Pirates are the main draw, and One Thousand Pictures is almost insanely catchy. It’s also a step on, witnessed by the heavier guitar fest and gorgeous keyboard squiggle in the opening Can’t Fish. Cold Black Kitty is equally ramped-up and electronically tweaked while the irresistible chug of recent single Come to the Bar is part-driven by burbling and pinging synths. It’s the album’s most euphoric chorus, which nails an everyday emotion – Sanders pleads with girl to just come back, and then go down the pub – with an eagle eye. With his attractively nervy voice, he always sounds haunted by ye olde girl trouble: "My tail’s between my legs now," he cowers with emasculated honesty on the downbeat Washing Powder. But sometimes he scores. On current single United, he sings, with tangible glee, "I just think it’s funny how we are united, on the carpet."
With these perfect nuggets of hormonal pop, Pete & The Pirates may not be courageous or sophisticated but they will make you want to jump around the room – even when you’re empathising with Sanders’ woes. Perhaps 13 tracks is two tracks too many (it flags toward the end), so you might want a breather now and again, but in the words of Little Death’s best track: come on feet! If only more indie-pop had half the nous and route-one fun of One Thousand Pictures.
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