SING-SING with Venus Hum at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (October 26), 7:45 pm. $12.50. 416-532-1598.
listen to sing-sing's debut al-bum, The Joy Of Sing-Sing (Manifesto), and it's clear that the group has a fine appreciation of the best kind of kitsch.It's a glorious marriage of the most magical aspects of 60s pop -- sugary melodies, chirpy vocals and bright, shiny horn flourishes straight out of cheesy French films -- and the better parts of 80s new wave dance music. Think Burt Bacharach arranging an ornate take on a Human League track, Bran Van 3000 on Quaaludes or St. Etienne without the self-satisfied hipness. They've even crammed in a Mony Mony sample!
So when Lisa O'Neill, whose ethereal soprano makes up half the British band (the other half is ex-Lush guitarist Emma Anderson), calls me from a trading post near the Grand Canyon, I'm not surprised to hear her wax eloquent on the virtues of campy Americana.
"Last time we were on tour we drove from San Francisco over to Denver through Nevada, and it's possibly one of the most boring drives I've ever done," explains O'Neill. "This time around I put my foot down and said, "I don't care if it takes us another five hours -- we're going to see the Grand Canyon.' It's magnificent! And I love American souvenirs, all the plastic stickers and little snowstorms in globes and things. Americans do them really well."
Even though the album dropped a mere month ago in North America (the tunes have been out for years in the UK), Sing-Sing have already snagged a solid cult following. And their U.S. audiences have been unabashedly vociferous. Apparently, the cynical crowds back home aren't as prone to "whooping" at shows, and Anderson and O'Neill are eating up the whoop factor.
All this has happened with minimal promotion. No covers of Rolling Stone, no premature Brit "it band" hype. O'Neill likes it that way.
"We're not getting reviews in massive magazines -- just in cooler local papers and small magazines -- so a lot's based on word of mouth, which is a really nice way to break an album. You don't shove it down people's throats; you let them discover it for themselves, which makes it much more special.
"I get put off if the media tell me an album's the next big thing. I often don't buy it, which means I miss out on some good albums. I didn't listen to Blur till 13, their last record, and I realized, "Hey, they're actually good. I should go buy their back catalogue."
You've gotta wonder if Sing-Sing's suddenly solid fan base is due to Anderson. Lush was at the forefront of the British shoe-gazer revolution back in its mid-90s heyday. The much-lauded buzz band fell off the radar after drummer Chris Acland took his own life in 1996. (Underage, a track on The Joy Of Sing-Sing, is Anderson's lovely, downtempo elegy to her former bandmate.)
But while Sing-Sing's sound is dreamy (due in part to the expert atmospheric layering by producer Mark van Hoen), it's far removed from the effects-heavy blissed-out guitar distortion of Anderson's shoe-gaze days. She's pissed off by folks who only tune in 'cause they're waiting for a mythical new album by the likes of My Bloody Valentine -- or Lush, for that matter.
"When you've been in a band and you form a new one, a lot of people don't see it as a new, fresh thing," gripes Anderson. "No matter what you sound like -- even if we'd made an electro album, say -- they're going to bring up your old material. People are lazy, and they bring their opinions of your former band to it and assume if they didn't like that, they won't like this.
"It's very frustrating the second time around."firstname.lastname@example.org