Sneaky Feelings, Send You, 1983

Usually considered as an EP or listed as “12 inch”, this early slab of Sneaky Feelings magic contains eight tracks and feels more like an album to me. About two years ago while record shopping in Australia I came across their album Waiting For Touchdown  and bought it without realizing that it was actually a compilation containing six of the tracks from Send You. Sneaky Feelings are one of the earliest Flying Nun bands, exemplifying what history has designated the “Dunedin sound” – lo-fi jangly pop guitar. I don’t find this too “jangly” though—it rocks out quite hard in places.

The only Sneaky Feelings I’d listened to before 2008 was back in the late 90s when I played their ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation Positively George Street a lot on my car stereo. I’ve managed to pull their four long-playing vinyl releases together quite haphazardly over the past four years, finding them here and there on my various worldly travels. Discovering the brilliance of Send You was a very pleasing experience. Some songs sprawl a little (which is why I think of this as an LP and not an EP) but they’ve got great tunes and great vocals. Sneaky Feelings are a four-piece with at least three, maybe four, songwriters and singers which gives them a rich palette of ideas to draw from. Lyric-wise, I find it hard to catch all the detail owing to the occasionally noisy histrionics, but generally the songs seem to dissect disintegrating relationships with a fine scalpel.

It may take those who aren’t familiar with the older Flying Nun sound a little acclimatizing to get past the off-key vocals, but once you do, they sink deeper than any pitch perfect diva ever could. Jeff Mangum is my go-to guy for an example of when a wavery vocal proves to be the best kind of singing, and the vocals on Send You are just as magnificent. Take it away Bumstead…

Waiting For Touchdown… does in fact open with a fairly jangly guitar line soon joined by soft rhythm guitar, bass, drums and David Pine’s wonderfully nasally vocal (almost a sneer), although I’m not always sure with this band whose voice belongs to who. This is a slow burner about catching up with an old friend/lover, the lyrics full of anticipation: “…but I hear you calling / Softly from the clouds / Softly …. / If you stay / I’d be the one … It’s strange but looking over it’s nice to see you’ve grown older / Will you be there when the nights get colder? / It’s a lovely thing to see / … / Waiting for touchdown / I can’t ignore my fear / Dreams must disappear / Waiting for touchdown / Did you look? / Did you look? / Did you? / Well don’t come here, no / I’ll be there.” Then we get a simple single guitar line ringing out loudly before the harmonizing starts up, one of the best features of Sneaky Feelings songs. The song teases, sort of builds without ever quite soaring to the heights it hints at, and that’s its main strength—to remain understated.

Throwing Stones… is also electric-jangly but with a solid backbone and a solid chorus: “…The victim is this week’s friend / The person to be seen with / Never to be seen again … / But you’re so cold-blooded / You hate with a passion / Nothing to do with anyone else / And the things which you say / Are not what’s happened / You hate with a passion / Nothing to do with anyone else.” The (sneaky) feelings in these songs are all mixed up with envy and jealousy, the petty stuff but aptly de-trivialized into something quite real and momentous. Meanwhile the guitar parts drive on, a chugging jangle, keeping the tension high throughout the song, but when the rest of the band start harmonizing with Pine the song moves into a higher realm. “And the victim is this week’s friend.” Damn, this has such great melodic potency as well as an unpredictable feel. The first real highlight on the album after the promising start of “Waiting For Touchdown.”

Strangers Again… is slow, more soulful, different vocalist, presumably Matthew Bannister: “We’re strangers again / How does it happen after all the time that we spent / Strangers again / Now we’re waiting for our time to come again / Strangers again / Facing the sad sunrise / Rising / Rising/ Don’t let go of my hand / Don’t try to freeze me / Don’t let go of my hand / I want you to seize me / We’re lovers again.” The guitar work is more pointillistic and spidery during the verses, and after the second round of chorus we get some lovely “oooh ooooh” parts. The bass line is slower and stealthy. Very melodic. Awesome stuff. It reminds me of those times, early 20s when you haven’t seen your girlfriend for a few months,and when you get together there’s that period of learning to feel comfortable again. Like a good story, Sneaky Feelings songs often leave you wondering what direction they’re heading in, finishing with that inevitable ‘ah’ moment.

Someone Else’s Eyes… brings the speed, the distortion, the rock beat. Bannister’s vocals are more buried, harder to discern specific words, but again, it sounds like deep relationship-analysis stuff. The song slowly builds with its forward momentum, “If I said I’m sorry … I can feel you talking … [something] / Would you ever show me if I asked to see,” and then this lovely falsetto chorus: “Let me see the way we are through someone else’s eyes.” The verse parts sound like fairly regular indie-rock fare – it’s the chorus that has you singing along, and again, towards the end the harmonizing starts up, which is starting to sound like a Sneaky Feelings staple. The English band Ride would use a similar kind of ‘ahh’ harmonizing on their Nowhere album in 1990. Another enjoyable number.

Not To Take Sides… interesting trick here. This song actually begins at the end of Side One, a very lo-fi acoustic demo version that sounds like it’s getting washed out by the wind and rain. The vocal melody is amazing, really beautiful. Flip the record over, and we get a “take two,” an up/down jangle-strum and the song proper. “It’s just I’m never ever sure / Whether you (I?) mean to be that way / It’s just that we’ve grown so far away / From each other / Time was when people thought we were brothers / Ahhhhh,” and this leads to the beautifully rising chorus, “…with your words I wonder if you’re hiding / Always try to defend you / Always try / Not to take sides.” The pace is stately, the music all in support of the incredible vocal melody, Bannister/ Pine (not sure who) really reaching for something quite magnificent. Lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ here too,  Then a climbing guitar line in the break, some heavier guitar chords, and a multi-part vocal. It’s sad to think that songs like this get left behind in the history of music. This is the kind of the thing that if it had been released now, may well get an idiotic 8.9 on Pitchfork’s Best New Music and probably sell a truck-load.

P.I.T. Song… burns slowly in on … ahem… another jangly guitar line, warm thrumming bass. “…Don’t you come any closer / Time to pause / Maybe consolidate / You can’t be two places at one time / You can’t be two places … / … There’s a change / There must be a reason / Must be something that you didn’t want me to see / You don’t hide the truth from the one that you’re lying naked next to / Don’t hide from me.” And at this point the pace picks up considerably and you sense the song is going to take off into some epic kind of territory and it does. “Don’t think that there was something more than just what I wanted… I could think of a thousand reasons to justify being here with you / But I don’t know if it’s worth the trouble / If that’s what I have to say.” There’s a sense of yearning desperation in his voice: “I know you’re lying.” The song sort of reaches small peaks then recedes slightly, as the song keeps building and building with a menacing kind of intensity that eventually coalesces and melts straight into the next song…

Won’t Change…  which is essentially a continuation of “P.I.T Song,” various rhythmic changes keep the interest up, distorted jarring guitars stabbing at the melody, keeping with the theme of the song—a guy trying to hold onto something that seems to be slipping away. Even when the song seems on the verge of complete meltdown, it finds a new way out, changing pace into something new and funky, with those ringing two chord parts that remind me a little of Interpol, and then the whole thing starts racing at three times the pace. What an incredible song. This is mindblowing, like “Paranoid Android,” only fourteen years earlier and half a world away. The chorus comes back in. “Won’t change the way I feel about you / I won’t change. … Sometimes when you look away … really puts the fear in me.” Oh man, this double song (P.I.T + Won’t Change) has to be one of the greatest kiwi songs of all time. It’s brilliant. I’m gushing because I haven’t listened to it for a while, and though it seems to go forever, you start to hope it never ends, it’s that good. Guitar freakout.

Everything I Want… is another jangly number with some distortion in there too. Another song with that unpredictable feel, you can’t quite tell what the structure’s going to be. The tune is not quite as melodic as earlier numbers and it’s sometimes hard to catch the lyrics beyond the chorus. “Everything is all right … you can’t tell what’s going on in mine / Touch me there / Everything is fine / Everything is all right” – one of those ironic numbers where the singer insists the same thing too many times, thus meaning the opposite. Lots of neat guitar work in this song, but yeah, it may as well be an instrumental, the lyrics feel incidental to the band who just seem to be enjoying playing. Again we have harmonizing and multi-part singing. The song ends though, and it hasn’t left as much impression as earlier tracks.

Yeah, so various sources on the net string together a number of influences, antecedents and give a bit more detail about the band. Check out a WordPress blog called “Backed With” which provides an analytical write-up on the history of Sneaky Feelings’s recorded music. Otherwise you get the standard bio info on Wikipedia and All Music Guide. There’s also a book, Positively George Street, which provides a detailed history of the band and their relation to 80s Dunedin pop.

About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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