Beginners – September Sunburn

This is the sound of the Netherlands I half-love despite my intermittent (self-loathing) raging against it; attractive and nice, decent to the core, open with its emotions, not afraid to playfully throw back all the bluster in a poppy, fun, and ultimately practical manner.

 

(Excelsior)

I could spin a line and say Beginners play a dangerous game with this, their début. This is as traditional a pop record as you could wish for. The sound is beautifully balanced, the hooks are loaded to bursting point, and the clean clear vocals crack with a sentiment that is there to ensnare you as well as convey the singer’s feeling (listen into Susanne Linssen’s voice on I Need to Sleep.) This is died-in-the-wool pop; a country mile away from Linssen’s old band, the irreverent Hospital Bombers. Beginners’ music is, seemingly there to be consumed, there to be enjoyed and ultimately forgotten. The LP is full of the sort of thing wallflowers of the Revolution think should be ignored. But, by dint of clever, ever so slightly raw string arrangements and ever so slightly dirty guitar licks, September Sunburn keeps you hooked despite yourself. So; this record is accessible, but have they made it sickeningly so?

Well, no.

Now if you are going to make a record like this newie by Beginners, you’ve got to have material that really punches above its weight. What I mean is; the songs have got to have character, and personality.  Anyone can hide behind good production and everyone can use the musical motifs and hooks of the zeitgeist in which the record’s made to skip round the issues of having songs with no moral or emotional weight. Luckily Beginners are too, well… honest to do that. The best tracks on here are the ones where we hear Susanne Linssen herself; the three killer slowies Miss You More, Scars and Green Lights, and the punchy This Is Where I Got Off, where (just like all the best pop) you can’t help but believe what she sings, and warm to the open, engaging personality projected through the songs.

OK it does sound like a classic American trad-MOR record; Don Henley, Tom Petty, Bangles, that kind of thing. Beginners aren’t that polished mind; when you hear The Strike you’d guess they’re more like a scrubbed up Camper van Beethoven, or a friendly take on Throwing Muses’ Real Ramona. Linssen even tries this hyper-American drawl on Toothpicks which is, well… ‘charming’. But despite the feel of Americana (the mentions of tail lights in opening track September Sunburn IS very Don Henley, M’Lud) and nods to the Anglo-American rawk canon (in September Song the ‘ooh la-la-las’ are very reminiscent of the Fabs’ You Won’t See Me and then there’s a song about Ringo, called appropriately, Yeah Yeah Yeah) this is also a record that is as Dutch as they come. It’s as Dutch as those bright, practical accessories in Hema, Dutch as having a coffee and a natter in your local gezellig café, Dutch as a dutiful visit to the in-laws. This is the sound of the Netherlands I half-love despite my intermittent (self-loathing) raging against it; attractive and nice, decent to the core, open with its emotions, not afraid to playfully throw back all the bluster in a poppy, fun, and ultimately practical manner.  

Possibly the best pop record released on Excelsior records this past decade, September Sunburn is an LP that manages to surmount any formula and any amount of grooming and robotic rock industry manoeuvering  to prove its core worth. I’d wager that this (in terms of style) is the 'feminine'* equivalent of what’s to come with the new Nouveau Vélo record. Intelligent and moving Dutch pop for the boys and girls. A journalist conceit, yes, but I’d put a few bob on it.

 

*The LAST thing Incendiary stands for is the erroneous and false split of musical worth over gender; something that far too many journalists, to their collective shame, do. All the ‘look girls can do what boys do’ bullshit is divisive and sexist. And the whole notion of mentioning ‘a’ band is ‘a girls’ band, as if that matters should be put out to grass. The word feminine is used in this review to understand how Susanne Linssen’s point of view may differ against Rolf Hupke’s view in the new Nouveau Vélo album.