by Nick Hanover
On their breezy ’80s mall pop throwback single “Stranger,” Fanclub close things out with the breathily repeated refrain “We’re all/We’re all/All the same,” and as far as ’80s indebted indie pop goes, that’s generally pretty true. But in the case of Fanclub’s debut EP, itself titled All the Same, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Fanclub may share a lot of the DNA of their nostalgic peers– New Order guitar hooks, Chromatics melodies and aloofness, Human League synths– but they’re a band with serious pop chops and enviable charisma as well as the ability to make well-trodden influences sound if not new at least exciting again.
Mostly a collection of previously released singles, All the Same nonetheless contains impressive aesthetic consistency, making it something like a microkorg twist on Singles Going Steady, in both stature and sound. Even when they’re switching up which instruments are in the spotlight, such as the guitar-heavy closer “Dreamers,” the material is unmistakably Fanclub in its balance of shimmer and swagger. Too many of Fanclub’s peers tend to forget that the romance end of the New Romantic movement they pillage but that’s at the core of every component of the Fanclub sound, with vocals that pine and ache as synth, guitar, bass and drums all do their best to cheer things up.
“Leaves,” the single Fanclub used to announce themselves to the world, is the apotheosis of this, an anthem for every lonely small town soul thinking “there must be something wrong with this town” as friends and lovers keep “dropping out.” Though the beat has the road pounding intensity of a teen runaway on a joyride but the synth lead and vocal suggest whatever escape plans were concocted were pipedreams at best. That may sound bleak and depressing but Fanclub lean into the romance of knowing the future is likely doomed and deciding to make a go for it anyway. If you’re looking for the topicality, for the now of this music, there it is.
Maybe that paradoxically hopeful cynicism is why Fanclub stand out from most throwback acts. On the aptly named “Reflection,” Fanclub ask you to count them in “even with your worst intentions,” recognizing that you haven’t changed but that’s okay, they’re along for the ride anyway. It’s the track that’s the furthest removed from ’80s pop in terms of instrumentation even as it’s the most beholden to the diving headfirst into bad decisions narrative focus of the coke generation– its rolling drums and jangly guitar are a better fit for the swirling decadence of Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine, but without the volume and sheepishness.
Which brings us around to the other key line from “Stranger”: it was never quite like this. Fanclub are almost certainly talking about a butterfly feeling there, that internal anti-gravity reminder that our stomach is a better barometer of romantic feelings than the heart could ever be. But it doubles as shorthand for that not quite deja vu feeling you get with their sound. We lust in brief bursts for hot throwback acts but that feeling fades pronto the instant we recognize “it was never quite like this,” it was better. Yet Fanclub are the exception that proves the rule, relic chasers who improve and expand on the artifacts they dust off rather than merely rolling out cheap knock offs of them.
Fanclub play Cheer Up Charlie’s on Saturday, March 2nd
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover