The Shrinking Islands: In the Black Carpet
Sort Of Records
In the '80s, it was OK to jangle. Alterna-heroes in many camps deployed distortion-free guitar strum to construct melodic, mid-tempo pop gems with oblique, observational lyrics. For example: southern college-rockers REM and The Connells, Kiwi popsters The Bats and The Chills, indie cassette heroes Sebadoh and Beat Happening -- even the U.K.-based "C86" twee explosion.
While the members of Boston's The Shrinking Islands (guitarist/singer Kyle Bittinger and drummer Andy Tefft) don't quite seem old enough to recall that period firsthand, it's obvious they've studiously absorbed its zeitgeist.
Beantown has a long and storied indie-pop tradition, much of it tied to MIT radio station WMBR, where Bittinger produced various regional bands. Yet Bittinger's saga actually began years before with a stint at Pitt's WPTS and in local Casio-wavers Harm. Back then, he surely heard the work of Pittsburgh's most earnest indie-pop songwriter, Frank Boscoe, of Wimp Factor 14 and Vehicle Flips. And Bittinger must've taken it to heart, because The Shrinking Islands seem a continuation of what Boscoe started, albeit more polished and shinier.
Indie cred established, there's no reason why a song like "Swallowed in Grace," with its plucky guitar lines and Byrdsian jangliness, shouldn't be played on WYEP before or after the obligatory Stipe rotation. And no reason why bespectacled 40-somethings who prize the perfect literate-pop tune shouldn't be overjoyed with the loping majesty of "Black Carpet" (which unfolds like Galaxie 500) or "They Don't Watch Me" (think Yo La Tengo). The chamber-pop youngsters, with their Shins, Decemberists and Sufjan, might like it, too, if they can pull their eyes off Pitchfork for a few minutes.