Field Mice
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Field Mice: For Keeps , 6/10
Northern Picture Library: Alaska, 5/10
Trembling Blue Stars: Her Handwriting , 5.5/10
Trembling Blue Stars: Lips That Taste Of Tears , 6/10
Trembling Blue Stars: Broken By Whispers , 6.5/10
Trembling Blue Stars: Alive To Every Smile , 6/10
Trembling Blue Stars: The Seven Autumn Flowers (2005), 4/10
Trembling Blue Stars: The Last Holy Winter (2007), 4/10

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I Field Mice, formati da Bob Wratten e Michael Hiscock, lanciarono alla fine degli anni '80 il "bedroom pop", un'effimera sotto-moda del Brit-pop che si esprimeva per canzoni tristi e dimesse dal ritmo briosamente ballabile. I primi singoli, Emma's House (Sarah, 1988) e Sensitive (Sarah, 1989), rivelarono una sensibilita` squisitamente francese per la melodia e l'atmosfera, confermata sul mini-album Snowball (1989, - LTM, 2005) da Let's Kiss And Make Up e End Of The Affair. Invece Skywriting (Sarah, 1990 - LTM, 2005), nonostante i gorgheggi celestiali di soprano di Below The Stars e It Isn't Forever, cambiava rotta, puntando su strutture piu` lunghe e complesse (persino otto minuti con sequencer in Triangle). La timida epopea di Wratten, chansonnier pudico ed effeminato, si spense con i singoli Autumn Store (1990), in due parti, soprattutto So Said Kay (1990), Holland StreetAnyone Else Isn't You (1990), September's Not So Far Away (1991).

Missing The Moon (Sarah, 1991) segno` di fatto l'inizio di una "nuova" carriera, all'insegna dell'acid-house e del dance-pop dei New Order. Fu quella infatti una delle strade battute dall'album confuso For Keeps (Sarah, 1991 - LTM, 2005), pochi secondi prima dello scioglimento.

Where'd You Learn To Kiss That way? (Shinkansen, 1998) e` una generosa antologia di singoli e album.

After he split from Field Mice, singer and guitarist Bob Wratten and singer Annemari Davies started the project Northern Picture Library, whose lonely album Alaska (Vinyl Japan, 1993), which also yielded the singles Paris (Sarah) and Last September's Farewell Kiss (Sarah), offers a blend of romantic songs (think Go-Betweens) and ambient instrumental pieces. This new atmospheric approach was in the vein of Dead Can Dance and Lycia .

Wratten then broke up with Davies and founded Trembling Blue Stars, which debuted with Abba On The Jukebox (Shinkansen, 1996). Her Handwriting (Shinkansen, 1996), a concept album that deals with the break up of his own relationship with Davies, showed Wratten still infatuated with French culture and music (A Single Kiss) but also leaning towards an ever more danceable format (Abba On The Jukebox). The majestic ballads What Can I Say To Change Your Heart and To Keep Your Heart Whole match Field Mice's most lyrical moments.

Wratten then recruited long-time associate Harvey Williams on keyboards and cellist Gemma Townley. And even Annemari Davies returned in time for the single Rainbow and the album Lips That Taste Of Tears (Shinkansen, 1997). The sound is enormously improved. Arrangements borrow from techno and orchestral soul, from Nico and chamber music. Songs like The Rainbow are as complex as touching.

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Most of Broken By Whispers (Shinkansen, 1999 - Subpop, 2000) is played in a sad and profound tone that weds Lycia's gothic depressions with Cure's somber existentialism. His elaborate and sumptuous ballads (She Just Couldn't Stay) attain the same atmosphere as the symphonic pop of the Pet Shop Boys. Artistically, the album is centered around the triptych of Fragile, I No Longer Know Anything and Back To You, long and complex tracks that display an instrumental sophistication bordering on chamber music and that rely on Wratten's dramatic delivery (a warm, feeble whisper). Birthday Girl is the exception in that it harks back to Field Mice's bedroom pop. Occasionally, Wratten fulfills contract obligations and aims for the pop hit (Ripples, Dark Eyes). Over the years, Wratten has become more of an existentialist philosopher and a master arranger, although his melodies tend to sound always the same and his singing is not precisely original. (Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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Leading a completely redesigned five-piece Trembling Blue Stars (featuring again Harvey Williams on keyboards and replacing Davies with Beth Arzy), Bob Wratten crafted his most personal album yet, Alive To Every Smile (Subpop, 2001). Wratten's vulnerable melodies wed innocence and experience thanks to his distressed vocals and to carefully orchestrated arrangements. Here All Day webs Lennon-esque progressions, Pink Floyd's washes of hypnotic instruments, gospel organ, dub guitar and mournful trombone. Backing female vocals and a laid-back shuffle give Haunted Days the nostalgic feeling of 1960s easy listening. Until The Dream Gets Broken is similarly old-fashioned (dreamy female vocals responding to Wratten's call, both lulled by light quasi-bossanova steps), although a harpsichord and a reverbed fuzz add a Donovan-esque tone to its pastoral setting. The sparse beginning of Maybe After All recalls Pere Ubu's deviant ruminations, before the song picks up speed and soars with another easy-listening multi-voice refrain. On the other hand, Ammunition is a straightforward pop ballad with little or no eccentricity.
The backdrop is thick, intense, almost symphonic, generally dark and menacing. Other than for the jarring guitar, With Every Story could be one of Enya's magical soundscapes and childish litanies.
Under Lock And Key is perhaps the most creative number, a trancey Nirvana-ish lullaby set to booming, distorted percussions. Equally disorienting, a forceful dance rhythm and a recurring guitar reverb sour the sweetness of St Paul's Cathedral At Night.
This album will not start any revolution, but it is an honest, intelligent, competent and intriguing collection of post-pop songs whose power extends way beyond their (somewhat limited) musical horizon. While none boasts the charisma of a masterpiece (consistently with Wratten's artistic dogma of understated simplicity), the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Wratten has coined a confessional style that absorbs elements of many genres but has no immediate predecessor.

A Certain Evening Light (Shinkansen, 2004) collects the Trembling Blue Stars' singles.

The Seven Autumn Flowers (Bar None, 2005) marks a sudden collapse in song quality by the Trembling Blue Stars. The songs are well crafted but sound all the same. It is hard to focus on any of them because they end before one has grasped its identity. The whole is even less than its parts, as lacks any major theme or concept that would justify such a bland parade of faceless tunes. Its follow-up The Last Holy Winter (2007) had a couple of sophisticated pop ballads, stronger psychedelic overtones and little else of note.

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