I feel I need to say something about California Snow Story's album Close to the Ocean, because unlike the Trembling Blue Stars album - that Everyone was waiting for - this one might have slipped you by. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes the things you discover by chance are the ones that stay with you. I called The Last Holy Writer one of the best records this year earlier, but somehow I feel more strongly about Close to the Ocean. It might even be the year's best album so far, if it hadn't been for that darn Love Dance album. Maybe it's just because I met David and got a chance to see them play live, which I doubt will happen again for a long time with David living in Japan now. I feel very fortunate about that. California Snow Story is a very old band actually, but their only release up until now was the One Good Summer EP, a Shelflife classic from 2002. I played "Summer Avenues" from that on the radio on Monday. The new California Snow Story is quite a different band however. It's still David Skirving of course, but now joined by Spanish singer Sandra Belda Martinez who used to be in a band called Superété. The album showcases some brilliant songwriting and "A New Light to Guide You" is still my favourite with its exquisite guitar solo topped by a sparkling xylophone. But already from the opening "Begin Again" you are lulled into dreamy state by David's soft, caressing voice that reminds me of Bobby Wratten but is still distincly his own. David's and Sandra's vocals blend perfectly on songs like "Brook Lune" and "Wishing Well" and Sandra sings some of the songs on her own, bringing a unique atmosphere to e.g. "Future Perfect". But if there is something that strikes you about this record it's the arrangements and the production. It's one of a few albums that seem to me as if every single sound is discernable, justified and placed exactly where it is for a reason. Other albums I feel that way about are The Young Tradition's Northern Drive, Language of Flowers' Songs About You, The Clientele's Strange Geometry and Belle & Sebastian's Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like a Peasant. Is there a connection? Well, they were all in the top of my end-of-year lists. And it's not a bad company to be in!
I've been waiting anxiously for this album since January, when it was originally set for release. Letterbox who have put it out have connections to Shelflife I'm told (maybe they've inherited their "celerity"?) and looks to be a very promising venture after this their second release, which comes with the most beautiful cover of the year. The first Letterbox release was the latest album by The Arrogants, who I have reappraised lately after finding out their singer is Jana previously of Majestic 12! Future releases include a new album by French duo Watoo Watoo, which will be great judging from "Perdu" that you can download from the Letterbox website. Go download, purchase, cherish, eulogize and remember.