February 1, 2016
I think I speak for everyone involved in this project when I say we’re all extremely excited to get this off the ground and find out what our readers think. It’s been great to see the support so far and the amount of subscribers in just one week has been nothing less than overwhelming and inspiring. This is all amazing and gratifying for sure, especially for me since this newsletter is actually the culmination of an idea I’ve been tinkering with since late 2012 when I first thought of doing an “album club” that was basically an alternative to the book clubs my friends were joining at the time. Obviously the idea has massively changed since then, but it’s still centered on the core concept of discovering new & different corners of the musical world with insightful friends & respected peers–only now we get to share it with all of you!
Off Your Radar will be a weekly examination of a great album carefully chosen by one of our contributors. Each week, you’ll get an introduction from that contributor as well as over a dozen of collected thoughts from each of our talented writers. The records we have chosen are all ones that are far removed from our, and hopefully your, normal listening habits and each are aimed to expand and advance our musical palettes for greater appreciation of what music truly is.
To me, the concept and structure of this newsletter are both fairly interesting and worthwhile, but it’d be neglectful to not mention our wonderful roster of contributors when detailing what makes OYR instantly unique. Off Your Radar has a pool of fifteen fervent music lovers, with most hailing from the state of Virginia (though our reach extends all the way to Minnesota and even England) and each is eager to share their own sonic opinions with you every Monday. When it comes to musical tastes and writing styles, you’re not going to find a more diverse group than the fifteen assembled below. There’s no other place out there where you can find aficionados of pop, country, hip-hop, punk, and indie all discussing a singular record and all in a completely different way on a weekly basis. It’s not the result of happenstance either; this is all done intentionally in order to give you the best comprehensive look at albums that we truly believe everyone reading should listen to immediately.
Before we kick-off the first issue, big thanks to one of our contributors Matt Klimas for also designing our inspired (and bad-ass) logo and also thanks to the rest of the contributors to donating their precious free time. And thanks to all of you reading for giving us a shot. I hope you all find something you fall in love with through Off Your Radar and I hope it starts today with the wonderful twee record we have in store for you.
Released On March 16, 2010
Released By Melodic Records & Bar/None Records
Standard Fare received barely any attention when they were around–I heard about The Noyelle Beat from a review and that is such a shame. The Sheffield, UK band produced an indie pop record (released by Bar None in the U.S.) that is catchy and fun-as-fuck to sing along to, but never feels super polished. The jagged guitars, places where Emma Kupa’s voice can’t quite hit the notes she wrote, a few dopey lyrics (“Global warming is getting me down”), & boy-girl vocals that don’t always line up, all make the record utterly charming. It’s a great time to rediscover Standard Fare, as I hear them in Trust Fund, Dick Diver, Radiator Hospital, All Dogs, and a slew of other fantastic young bands. Radiator Hospital did not put out a full length last year, but records from the other three bands ended up in my Top 20 of 2015 list. This is a sound that totally speaks to me, I guess.
The centerpiece of The Noyelle Beat is “Fifteen (Nothing Happened),” a song that takes the trope of male musicians desiring young female groupies and turns it on its head, and not just because it’s sung by a woman. The narrator is clearly attracted to the drunk fifteen year old in bed with her, but knows she should not take advantage of a teenager. “This isn’t right / I don’t want to have to spend the night / Six hours of my life / Just wanting you wanting you wanting you wanting you.” In interviews, Kupa has called the song “jokey” because she was only into the person for “five minutes,” but that doesn’t lessen the impact it has as a feminist classic (a classic in my own head, maybe). Fun fact: probably from the inclusion of the line “I apologize for not warning you about those men,” I always thought the object of Kupa’s desire was female.
The record is not without fault–it’s a few minutes too long (I would cut “Be In To Us” for sure) and sometimes Kupa’s voice is just too rich to listen to for long stretches of time, but it has held up beautifully, and I return to it often. Since Standard Fare, Kupa has popped up here and there–in a few bands I never liked as much, as well as singing back up in Gold-Bears’ amazing “Yeah, Tonight“–but she released a six-song solo record Home Cinema last year that is just as heartbreaking as “Fifteen.” Not only is The Noyelle Beat on Spotify (along with its excellent 2012 follow up, Out Of Sight, Out Of Town), but you can stream it on Bandcamp as well.
Over the course of this project, you will notice a theme in the records I have chosen: most feature female singer-songwriters. I think there are so many records by women that are not as revered as they should be and I hope to draw some attention to their excellent work.
This promo shot sums up everything you need to know about the band.
Standard Fare was previously unknown to me. In an age of musical saturation and proliferation, it’s rarely the case that access is a barrier to music, but rather the fog of relative obscurity that keeps gems like this hidden. No algorithm could have lead me here. But hey, that’s what friends and curations are for. It’s quite clear right out of the gate what kind of album stands in front of us. The thirteen tracks extend the long lineage of spunky, heart-on-sleeve pop with a crispness and soft growl. I must say I’m pleasantly surprised to find it has everything I look for in a great pop record. It feels direct, but thoughtful at the same time. The little touches are nice, like the segue between tracks six and seven. While Emma Kupa’s vocals are clearly the centerpiece, the harmonies and switch-offs from Danny Howe add extra flair. The guitars bounce and jangle, but never get cluttered. While it stays overall to the cleaner side of the overdrive spectrum, there is just the right amount of grit — I love when things dig in a little harder and the riffs fly on “I Know It’s Hard.” Brightness and exuberance assert themselves, even in the most melancholy stretches. There are colors of Nico in Emma’s softer moments, especially on “Married.” If bands like Voxtrot and The Vaselines are your fancy, you owe it to yourself to check out this wonderful piece of energetic twee. Standout tracks for me include “Married,” “Love Doesn’t Just Stop,” and “Wow.”
One thing that occurred to me when I was listening to the album was how the stories and attitudes presented in these songs felt very much like those presented in the Arctic Monkeys’ album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Like as if the band ran in the same crew as the AM ruffians, and also decided to write songs about the group’s exploits…and I just looked it up and they’re both from Sheffield!!!! Ahhh! Could my brain really have paired these two bands together just based on sound and content? Is there a “Sheffield Sound” that I picked up on? Is the Sheffield accent distinct enough for me to have connected them through the pronunciation of their words? It also turns out, after further investigation, that some of the songs on this album were recorded in the same studio as some of the songs on the Arctic Monkeys one, so maybe that’s a link as well. (Editor’s Note: Same producer too – Alan Smyth). Well, that’s my musical sleuthing sorted for the week. Cheers!
Full disclosure, indie-pop is not my wheelhouse so the following comes from a place of ignorant impartiality. Who knew that awful relationships could yield such an upbeat album? Standard Fare, that’s who. Although lead singer Emma Kupa is enchanting on her own, the group truly shines when both Kupa and bandmate Danny Howe are vocally active. Perhaps most impressive is how Kupa & Howe allocate their duets/harmonies. When it happens (“Secret Little Sweetheart,” “Be In To Us,” & “Wow“) it’s a highlight and you’re left wanting more. Speaking of highlights…”Love Doesn’t Just Stop“–(aka the George Costanza diss track): Kupa pokes holes in her ex’s “it’s not you, it’s me” routine with “you said it wasn’t my fault, that it wasn’t personal / but how could it not be me when I was all you had?” “Nuit Avec Une Amie:” The happiest unhappy couple ever. Despising your significant other never felt so good! “Philadelphia:” Though this long-distance love song is impossibly optimistic, nobody’s ever not been disappointed with something they waited a year for in Philly (see Nerlens Noel & Joel Embiid). Official Sixers theme, anyone? “I Know It’s Hard:” I’m 99.9 percent sure she’s pining for her lover. But go back and listen as if it’s a young mother yearning for her child, caught in the middle of a joint custody battle. Is that weird? I made that weird, didn’t I? “Married:” Instant hipster wedding procession anthem. “Edges And Corners:” Who doesn’t hate their girlfriend? Honestly? I just didn’t know it could sound this buoyant.
There are some times when you just need a nice feel good record to put on. I knew I was in for a good time when starting Standard Fare’s Noyelle Beat, but I never expected what a fun and entertaining ride of emotions it would entail. It’s bursting with energetic indie pop goodness that I couldn’t help bobbing my head along to and it goes into somber melancholy choruses before lifting you back up. I find it bright and bubbly, but just enough jangly rock to make it cool. The only real criticism I have is that it’s a pretty short album (a quick 38 minutes), but that’s quickly resolved by putting the record on repeat.
It was fun to go back and listen to this album again. “Philadelphia” and “Let’s Get Back Together” are easily standout tracks for me after several spins. I think the no frills recording works in their favor. Polishing the rough edges could have turned the honest feeling Standard Fare sound into cheesy pop. The Noyelle Beat is full of catchy songs about love and relationships in your early twenties. Maybe it’s my age or maybe it’s all the reboots, remakes, and reunions nowadays, but I wonder what a followup album would sound like. Did she eat cheesesteaks with that dude in Philly? Has she awkwardly bumped into the now twenty-one year old at the store? I’ll have to settle for Out Of Sight, Out Of Town.
Sadly David Brent does not cameo – but GIF calendars! And bedside strumming!
Keeping a diary is an exercise in keeping track of the trees, not necessarily the forest. You chronicle the ups and downs, with as little varnish as possible, and usually it’s a solitary affair. But when I listen to Standard Fare’s The Noyelle Beat album, I hear a shared diary. Moments and emotions are crystallized–longing (“I know it’s hard being apart”), fights (“I know I made a fool of you”), regrets (“I’m wishing I was him now”)–with lots of “you,” like a detailed, itemized accounting being done on two accounts at once. Two voices. Little studio polish. Honest vocals without the comfort of reverb. Clear and present drums. It reminds me of how this kind of record-keeping isn’t just useful for looking back or determining trends–it’s a healthy part of a thoughtful person’s daily routine. Reflection. Processing. But there are also the moments that zoom out, where you see the whole forest. Like on “Married,” where Emma Kupa sings “I always said that it was you I’d marry,” or on “Dancing,” where she sings “There’s always gonna come a time when we don’t know the answers / always gonna come a time when we should just go dancing.” I love that.
If there was ever an album that truly encapsulated British noughties indie-pop, The Noyelle Beat would be hard to top. Standard Fare’s debut is like a Frankenstein’s monster of an album, happily taking bits and pieces from bands across the previous decade to produce a tight and emphatic record. “Nuit Avec Une Amie” with its jangly riff is reminiscent of early Libertines, whilst it’s hard not to think of The Long Blondes’ Kate Jackson when listening to Emma Kupa’s vocals on “Fifteen (Nothing Happened)“. The themes of the songs too, ranging from a fascination with a 15-year-old boy to an oversea love, have a distinctly British sensibility to them. This isn’t to say Standard Fare don’t stand on their own two feet amongst their peers. The Noyelle Beat revels in its ability to switch from breezy to dark without losing its luster. Kupa is the star here–as song-writer and lead vocalist, she dominates the record giving the album its raw energy throughout the thirteen tracks. The standouts are the aforementioned “Fifteen” and “Dancing” an unadulterated blast of pure indie-pop. It’s a shame that Standard Fare only lasted two albums before disbanding in 2013, as The Noyelle Beat was a promising debut and a standout in a genre bursting with terrific records.
James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist
The best part about the pop gems found on The Noyelle Beat are that they fit with where Standard Fare hail from. With Sheffield being their homestead, it seems like there is an innocence and wonder found in the musings of Emma Kupa and Danny Howe. As opposed to what would emerge years prior with a band like Arctic Monkeys or even further back with Pulp, Standard Fare take a lot of these loose foundations and develop their own unique spin on Britpop. Opener “Love Doesn’t Just Stop” is a perfect introduction to the group’s charm with quick soon-to-be favorites like “Philadelphia” and “Let’s Get Back Together” following suit. After a short bit of research, many press outlets declared “Dancing” as one of their favorite songs off of this release and it’s easy to see why. There is a nice blend of moments where you could easily find yourself swaying along and moments where the song almost deconstructs some of the romanticism of the act in the first place. Even the subject matter alone bounces between romantic woes, existential crises, and the art of letting go. In this instance, just succumbing to all of our urges to just dance our aches and fears away. This record wouldn’t feel out of place in a contemporary soundscape. And to think that this record came out two years after Bar None Records put out a release from Richmond’s Hot Lava. Small world.
Pop music is about evocation. At its best, a pop song conjures images or emotions out of the ether and creates a world. It shows us a place we’ve dreamt of, places we’ve forgotten or places or places we’d long to be. When a series of these images are strung together to make a great pop album, it takes us on a journey through that world. The Noyelle Beat is a great pop album. It’s a work that, through it’s simple and evocative lyricism, succeeds as a piece of abstract storytelling. With closed eyes and a little imagination, the album plays as the perpetually on again, off again romance between a pair of friends. Think “(500) Days of Summer,” but in blown out 16mm, with a little more sex and a couple more tattoos. Each track here plays as its own montage, and the trading of lead vocals works wonders on the storytelling. The best moments are when back-to-back work tracks as the two sides of a coin (“Married” being followed by “Edges And Corners” immediately stands out). This a record for break-ups and new crushes. This is the kind of album that you listen to in your headphones, poolside when you’re by yourself and you wanna have all the sun-drenched feels while the bright, playful guitar riffs keep you from spilling any tears into your margarita.
If you’ve seen them live, we’re all jealous.
This English trio dives right in with opening track “Love Doesn’t Just Stop,” dropping us right into the action by ignoring any opening atmosphere and immediately launching into a full-speed melodic punk riff. Standard Fare may not quite be what Americans think of when they think “pop-punk,” but if you take the literal definitions of those two genres and mash them together, pop melodies and punk song structure like those of Standard Fare are exactly what you’d get. This is a catchy, danceable album that slows down on occasion, but for the most part keeps things peppy and bouncy. It makes me think of (seemingly forgotten, more’s the pity) Norwegian punk singer Ida Maria, who’s 2008 debut, Fortress Around My Heart, knocked me out at the time of its release. I think younger kids who are more up on today’s music scene will hear a bit more of Alvvays and Joanna Gruesome in this band’s sound, while the older heads (i.e. my age) will think Heavenly or Black Tambourine. Like all of those bands, Standard Fare’s Noyelle Beat is super-fun.
Standard Fare’s The Noyelle Beat is the lovechild of Matt & Kim and every stargazing indie rock band to ever have existed in the most exciting and carefree way possible. Quirky, spiraling, exciting, and laid back all at the same time, The Noyelle Beat is feel good indie rock for the soul. Emma Kurpa and Danny Howe’s perfectly balanced ‘his and her’ lyrics about a love gone wrong play perfectly with the subtly quick beat beneath them on “Nuit Avec Une Amie,” and “Fifteen (Nothing Happened)” is the in-your-face brutally honest cut about all of our not so put together teenage years that pulls the record together. These two tracks are just a sliver of the blissfulness that is conveyed by this trio. Other standouts include “Let’s Get Back Together,” a melancholy tinged back burner that stands out as the breakup track of the record; “Love Doesn’t Just Stop,” the (most likely) intentionally placed opener, perfect because of it’s high volume intro; and “Edges And Corners,” one of the few to feature Danny Howe and his spitting vocals. Wonderful in concept, heartfelt in execution, The Noyelle Beat is the perfect soundtrack to any rainy Northwest saturday spent laying in bed.
Tyler Sirovy (@tswarovy)
Budding Appraiser Of Sonic Complexities
Bands with girl bassists have always been cooler. I could spend hours listing bands from Talking Heads to The Adverts, but you’re going to have to trust me on this one. Standard Fare is, of course, no different and Emma Kupa is the clear star of the record thanks to her redolent songwriting and her versatile voice. Everything you need to know about Kupa comes within the first 38 seconds of the record and I’d bet most listening will just instantly fall in love with her before she’s finished belting out the first “you fell out” on album opener “Love Doesn’t Just Stop.” There’s so much more of Kupa to celebrate, but I’d like to point attention over to Danny Howe’s work on the record. He’s a competent singer in his own right and “Secret Little Sweetheart” does wonders for the pace of the record when it comes about half-way in, similar to “Under The Tide” on CHRVCHES’ first record. Really though, it’s Danny Howe’s approach to the jangle sound that had me hooked. Though there’s plenty of strumming, there’s also a lot more happening with his guitar work here. Standard Fare is a clear descendant of the amazing C86 sound, yet Howe’s also the product of all that came after it. There’s slight but clear math rock moments like on “Nuit Avec Une Amie” and on “Wow,” the sheer fact that he decides to unload some fuzz distortion in the last minute of the record is truly brilliant. Every time I think he’s settled into an affable motion or inspired R.E.M. riff, he briefly switches things up and lets me know that the trio’s flawless frontwoman isn’t the only thing worth adoring.
From the first few seconds of listening to the The Noyelle Beat by Standard Fare, it’s clear that they are everything that any aspiring indie pop band from England should aim for today. Ear catching riffs, bouncy lyrics, and (my personal favourite) a kooky female lead singer with dark undertones. It’s something uniquely British in capturing a youthful optimism yet knocking it back with an almost mid-life cynicism. All of this makes me wonder why Standard Fare never ripped up more trees, like my personal favourite act to emerge from these shores in recent times, Wolf Alice. Whilst they may not engage with the more guttural elements Wolf Alice, Standard Fare carefully craft imaginative tangents in their use of ramshackle pop all the while staying distinctly British. Emma Kupa’s delivery in “Philadelphia” is something that could have been directly lifted from the UK mid 2000’s indie revival boom, weaving social commentary through a guitar laden track before almost springing into a track like “Edges And Corners,” evoking memories of early Noah & The Whale that for all it’s peppiness is, for lack of better term, beautifully angst ridden. Too often when bands go a route of being very British they get tripped in cliches that have marred generations of musicians, getting caught in the shadows of goliaths of bands in Britain’s rich musical heritage. Standard Fare embrace this musical tapestry without being swamped by it on The Noyelle Beat by bringing a very modern ideals and lyrics to music that has seemingly passed through the modern ages.
Matt Green (@happymad1986)
Fiery Orator Of Nostalgia
At first glance, indie pop band Standard Fare live up to their name on first album The Noyelle Beat. They make the kind of pleasant guitar pop that is both easy to like and easy to dismiss with the “twee” designation that’s loomed over this kind of music since Belle and Sebastian paved the twee way in the 90s. But as the music plays on, Standard Fare subverts genre conventions enough that the four letter word is nothing but a distant memory. The music itself is the standard guitar, bass, drums setup that gets the job done, its instant familiarity supporting and allowing the highlights of the record to shine through–namely, lead singer/bassist Emma Kupa’s voice and lyrics. Her vocals are strong, confident, and just unpolished enough to be endearing. When she hits the note in the chorus of opener “Love Doesn’t Just Stop,” it’s a joyous moment in a song, ironically, about falling out of love. Her honest, often amusing narrative voice is best exemplified in album highlight “Fifteen (Nothing Happened),” in which Kupa resists the temptations to sleep with a fifteen-year-old who is “just too damn attractive.” Although second vocalist/guitarist Danny Howe doesn’t leave as much of an impression as Kupa, he’s a competent singer and his interplay with Kupa often elevates the songs. The Noyelle Beat is proficient, enjoyable pop music that takes enough risks to be more than just standard fare (pun intended).
David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer
Moment Of Truth by Gang Starr
Chosen By Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford