England - Full Moon 85 - 09/10/03
The Bumstead Recording Company
It is said that music (at least good music) has no sense of time or place. It can cross centuries
and continents and still sound as fresh and alluring as on the day it was created. This must be
true; otherwise there would be no conceivable way (excepting a very successful channelling of John
Lennon) that a 21-year-old guy from Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territories in Canada,
could make music in his bedroom studio that would sound as if it was crafted on the banks of the
Mersey or Thames river in England. Stephen Noel, also known as Boy, manages to do just that.
As opposed to much of the late 90s early 00s bedroom DYI music, Boy's album is not a small LoFi
album made on a tape recorder with the noises of the street audible (i.e. any Mountain Goats record)
but a lush collection of orchestral Britpop tunes overlaid with electronic whispers. A truly
impressive thing is just how much Stephen Noel did in this album. He wrote or helped writing all
of the songs except for the one, written by the other contributing member of Boy, David Charles
Hamelin, he played various instruments including bass, piano, Hammond, drums, guitar, did the
electronic touches on his computer, produced the album, designed the artwork on the CD, designed
his website; in general it seems that Noel is on the
way of becoming the Robert Rodriguez of the music business.
The music created is easily comparable to many of Boy's contemporaries (Sondre Lerche for
example) and spiritual predecessors (as a mix of mid 90s Blur and Oasis and Revolver era Beatles)
but in general it stands on its own two feet as a testimony to the originality and creativity of
Noel. Sometimes lush and warm, sometimes somewhat distant and distant, the songs flow effortlessly
from one another, each written as a little story with clever, insightful though mainly cynical
lyrics, and each with its own particular sound that often takes unexpected turns along the way
tweaking the old Britpop format.
The centrepiece and masterpiece of the album is without a doubt the third track "French Diplomacy".
From its opening notes of horns and strings it sounds much like a previously unreleased Beatles
tune, or more like a Sondre Lerche tune that lacks the jazzy mellowness (but in a good way). It's
more immediate and catchy than anything else on the album with a spotless production with Noel's
soaring vocals singing the lyrics with McCartney nonchalance, and in general Boy created a tune
that is both timeless and beautiful.
Although "French Diplomacy" is definitely the highlight of the album there is only one track
(sixth track, "Hollywood) that can count as filler. Other notable tracks are "Agent Red and "Joey"
(tracks two and five) both portraying odd characters with sarcasm and wit that would compare with
the best of Blur's Parklife eccentric personalities (just think "Tracy Jacks"). Another
stand out is the track before last, "Punk Ethic"; that has the loud and fast sound expected from
its name, though completely unexpected departure after the washed dissonant psychedelic sound of
the previous track, "Appletree".
The only complaints that I have concerning the album is that by doing so much himself Noel has
sometimes been slightly too self indulgent and unnecessarily string out some songs by a minute or
two more than necessary. As well at times during the first listen the sound of the album might get
a bit too dissonant to be enjoyable, but eventually after a few more listens it grows on you. But
these are very minor flaws in a wonderful debut that showcases the talent of Boy and the
internationalism and timelessness of music. Even now, with only his debut under his belt and the
hope of many albums to come, it seems that Boy is ready to join the likes of Athlete to be the
torchbearers of the new wave of Britpop in the 21st century.
Copyright © 2003 Dan Ershov