- by Steve Rhodes Release Date: Label:
From the same period as the happy-clappy, back-slapping and swaggering, cheerful smugness of Britpop was an album by a Scottish band riding a different wave. Telstar Ponies produced a stark contrast with their 1995 debut-masterpiece In the Space of a Few Minutes. From members who had previously been part of the jangly Teenage Fanclub and the insufferably shambolic 18 Wheeler, it's surprising that Telstar Ponies produced such a dark and intense album, incorporating elements of Krautrock, space-rock, folk and even darkwave. Music this dark had previously been signposted as self-indulgent miserablism or goth, but this was far from it. It was post-rock before the usual protagonists had even fledged their wings.
'The Moon is Not a Puzzle' is a sparse opener, full of foreboding, where David Keenan's almost spoken vocal ("Put a sign across my head, never stick at all, put my memory to bed, say I'm out of luck, that's all") is accompanied by an eerie guitar. The song builds effortlessly with the introduction of Rachel Devine's mantric vocal, to a driving, rising backing, and a building of noise to a triumphant end. A solemn but also a positive opening which reflects the shifting nature and mood of the album.
Where Telstar Ponies play to their strengths is with their bleaker numbers. 'Two's Insane' as suggested by the title, is barren and stark, with nods to Slint in the spoken lyric and moody guitar riffs which build and lead into cataclysm. This is shared by 'Monster' but with more noticeable drumming, added shrieking and heavier riffs in places. But it's 'Her Name' than epitomises the album with David's repeated lyrics, "It's dark in here, no light, I can still hear you, I can hear you creep, out of sleep, to be with me" and "Someone turn on the light, me and her won't sleep tonight", spoken while noises ominously build up in the background. Like watching a classic horror film, expecting something to jump out from the dark corners of the room.
Though desolation is a welcome bedfellow, there is far more than darkness to this album. 'Lugengeschichte' unsurprisingly nods to Neu! and Cluster in its pulsing rhythm, but like a number of Scottish bands around at the time leans also towards the US, with Pavement, Guided By Voices and Sebadoh as apparent influences. 'Side Netting', a slower, more introspective number, lifts the claustrophobia and is one of the strongest songs on the album. 'Maya' contrasts more of a Hispanic sound in the guitars with heavier riffs, and the cover of jazz vocalist Patty Waters' 'Moon Don't Come Up Tonight', with its clearer use of piano with reverbed guitar, shows hints of the direction the band would take on later works.
The highlight of the album, however, is the bleak 'Not Even Starcrossed', where David's almost whispered vocals are interjected by a cacophony of wall of sound guitars. But there are still sanguine moments with lyrics such as "wishing in a star" and "I'm in love with you", and a beautiful, dreamier guitar riff that dominates the close of the song. After such an intense album there is further room for optimism in the closer 'I Still Believe in Christmas Trees', with delicate, rolling drums and a gentle guitar which, rather than bearing doom, bring a moment of lightness to the end of a dark but excellent album.
The band followed In the Space of a Few Minutes with just one more LP, Voices From the New Music, leaning towards a baroque, acoustic sound, with Rachel Devine taking more of a lead role and two further EPs, with more of a folk edge, before going on hiatus. But with In the Space of a Few Minutes they left us with the perfect guitar album, with quiet/loud patterns that seem more organic and natural than those fellow Caledonians Mogwai were to perfect in the years after this release.