The Wave Pictures have been around a good 15+ years, but ask most people (myself included 2 years ago) and unless they have an encyclopedic knowledge or maybe an older Brother rooted in underground scenes they probably haven’t heard of the band, despite them being on lovable indie label Moshi Moshi Records. That’s my experience when my friend recommended The Wave Pictures to me a few years ago and one music trade later led to a happy discovery of a good 5 or 6 albums of brilliant and witty alt-folk. They’re also workhorses, rarely taking a year off from making music, whether it’s their own albums or collaborations with others. That just about brings us to February 2015, and the band’s both latest album and collaboration Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon, classed as a Wave Pictures album but co-written with Billy Childish.
On first inspection, it all seems like a case of ‘been there, done that’. They’re a band that you could easily misunderstand as repetitive in songwriting, but it can’t be denied that their core sound has always remained the same. I guess in my definition of alt-folk with Wave Pictures, it’s because a lot of their music is story-driven, stripped back and downtempo.
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What keeps them prevalent and is present here as well as their other work is a clear sense of musical identity. In the same way that Doves are the sound of Northern England to me, Wave Pictures is very much a sound of small town and sometimes rural England. Written by guitarist Dave Tattersall, they are confessional lyrics that are easily relatable, often about everyday life and the mundane, almost like a lighter Cocker or Morrissey.
It’s not to knock other songwriters but it’s rare to hear such almost ‘normal’ lyrics nowadays when most British songwriters have given up on relating to their everyday fans or increasingly are already part of the ‘New Etonian’ establishment. Tattersall’s lyrics are great anyway, especially on songs on this album like At Dusk You Took Down The Blinds and Fake Fox Fur Pillowcase, but he also has amazing vocal talents, with what is clearly a really nice diegetic and earnest voice.
Again, such a unique voice is a rarity these days unfortunately, so it’s a really powerful tool to have in the band’s arsenal, complemented on backing and sometimes lead vocals from drummer Jonny Helm. Bassist Franic Rozycki usually sticks to just that, but he makes some nice bass lines so it’s fine. Throw in some acoustic guitar and the usual tropes of folk sound and you've got that rare balance of a band making folk music that doesn't sound completely coma-inducing.
What prevents Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon from just being another Wave Pictures album though is that co-writing collaboration with Billy Childish. How much influence he’s had on this record will probably stay between the collaborators but there’s definitely a feeling felt through the album of sheer excitement and a desire from The Wave Pictures to impress their hero. Everything has a harder edge to it, some of the witty, diary-like lyrics have more bite to them and the larger emphasis on electric guitar brings with it that nice feeling of the band being a gang of musicians ready to rumble. Every Wave Pictures album have had some less folk-leaning songs on them (Leave The Scene Behind from Instant Coffee Baby may be the best example of that) but not to the extent seen here.
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At times, particularly on songs like The Fire Alarm, you could almost call Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon a blues record, or certainly rock’n’roll, with its classic distortion and feeling of a band just jamming away. John Fogerty cover Green River even has a blues harmonica solo in it. Juxtaposed with Tattersall‘s voice and the usual alt-folk leanings of the band, it creates this really weird sound that shouldn’t work nearly as well as it has here. The fact that it does means you probably won’t hear many other records like it this year.
Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon is another bit of evidence to show just how much of an appreciated band The Wave Pictures should be, putting out quality album after quality album all with a clear sense of identity and honesty to them. All of the usual elements of their music are present and at best you could criticize them for repeating themselves too often but the collaboration with Billy Childish pays dividends, resulting in a much more dangerous, hard-edged sound that you could go as far as saying is a blues album just as much as a folk album.
From first hand experience they’re a band that are very easy to jump into at any album in their career and if Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon ends up being your first experience with The Wave Pictures then you’ll certainly be delving into more. Every time you listen to them there’s a feeling of genuineness, and especially today that can only be a good thing.