Brighter - Singles 1989-1992 CD

matcd026   /   September 2003
 #brighter
  1. Inside Out
  2. Tinsel Heart
  3. Around the World in 80 Days
  4. Things Will Get Better
  5. Noah's Ark
  6. I Don't Think It Matters
  7. Does Love Last Forever?
  8. Poppy Day
  9. Half-hearted
  10. So You Said
  11. Killjoy
  12. British Summertime
  13. Hope Springs Eternal
  14. Never Ever
  15. End

Highly anticipated collection of singles previously released on the legendary English pop label Sarah Records. A trio of Alison Cousens, Keris Howard and Alex Sharkey, Brighter was a beloved band equally comfortable creating introspective and poignant songs (Inside Out, So You Said, Never Ever) and jangly pop hits (Does Love Last Forever, Poppy Day, I Don't Think it Matters). The songs all possessed the signature Brighter elements: beautifully strummed guitars, gorgeous melodies, and heartfelt, intelligent lyrics. Between 1989 and 1992, the band released three brilliant 7" EPs ("Around the World in Eighty Days", "Noah's Ark", and "Half-hearted") and one 10"/CDEP ("Disney") for Sarah which are collected here in their entirety. Long out of print and highly sought after, these 15 songs are available again (and for the first time on CD for the majority) on this beautiful collection. Brighter disbanded in 1993, leaving a devoted legion of fans heartbroken until band members reemerged in recent pop outfits Harper Lee, Pinkie, Trembling Blue Stars and Fosca. Housed in a deluxe digipak with vintage Brighter photos, "Singles 1989-1992" is a document of what came before these distinguished bands and an essential release for any serious student of indiepop.

 
reviews
Ah, Brighter. If you needed melancholy, intimate, gently heartbroken indie pop to keep you company as you curled up under your blankets and felt blue, they would never let you down. Their brief catalog is sad and blue from start to finish. An apt comparison would have to be the Field Mice if you took away any glimmer of happiness and that band's willingness to experiment. Brighter were mostly content to stay within the bounds of the sound they sketched out on their first release: ringing guitars, drum machine, melodic bass, and above all Keris Howard's almost painfully personal lyrics and bedsit perfect voice. Matinée have done indie kids everywhere a big favor by rounding up the band's three singles and one 10" EP they recorded for Sarah between 1989 and 1992. (The group also released two flexi-discs that sadly don't appear.) Each song is a steady stream of sadness, but the standout songs are the epic "Noah's Ark," the almost peppy "I Don't Think It Matters," and their musically sunniest song, "Poppy Day," which ironically boasts the lyrics "The sun rarely shines without you." You know from the resignation in his voice that the sun hadn't shone on Howard for quite a while. Oh well, his sadness is indie pop fans' gladness, and this collection brings a feeling of warm nostalgia for the old-timers who lived through it and a feeling of happy discovery for those who enjoy the bands that Brighter influenced (like most of Matinée's early-2000s roster, especially Keris Howard's group Harper Lee). 2002 brought Matinée's great Razorcuts retrospective, and then 2003 brought this superb collection, making you wonder what 2004 would bring. Maybe an Orchids box set? A Harvey Williams retrospective? Once again Matinée proves itself to be just about the best pal an indie kid could have.   --All Music Guide
with brighter, of course, it's personal... so. you forsake f.c. barça in the cup-winners' cup final to go and see brighter play in then-exotic london, and by the end of their set a band you started off merely rather liking have become your new favourite group and you and a not insignificant number of your anorak-clad côterie have whispered, near-secret and avowedly platonic crushes on all three of them: the bespectacled, becoming singer keris, the twinkly-eyed bass player alex and the shy-as-you like guitarist alison, the latter's head bowed and hidden by her generous fringe. and before you know it there are scrawled lyrics from "noah's ark" in your exercise book and on your school desk, "i don't think it matters" ricocheting around your head while you reel, dizzy with altitude, from clambering up helvellyn, and you're getting told off for blu-tacking the insert from "around the world in 80 days" to your newly-decorated bedroom wall (incidentally, that insert may well be the gorgeous sleeve of this retrospective, pictured above). and then you find yourself, in a weak moment, reduced to tears by "tinsel heart"; you later recoil when richard waaah! tells you it's actually all about sex. yet for all that, looking back, it's hard to translate into our indelicate patois quite why brighter's music meant so much. when you're young you accept the alchemy of your musical heroes and heroines as a gloriously affirmatory fact of life, rarely stopping to analyse one instrument against another or even pausing to reflect whether or not the words are saying exactly what you've decided they're saying. this, is, of course, the only sensible way to absorb music, just as it is to interpret the world around you. when you're a teenager, favourite bands provide you with succour, purpose, comfort and - perhaps most of important of all - (remember all your badges and t-shirts ?) identity. you rarely pause to reason why. away from our self-indulgence, all that history records with certainty is that in each of the four calendar years 1989 to 1992, brighter released an ep (three sevens and a ten) on bristol's über-mervilleux sarah records. this album compiles those eps, starting with the rough dusky charm of "around the world in 80 days" and its orange duckpond sleeve. "inside out", which begins that ep, is in so many ways brighter epitomised, a percussion-free loop of mannered guitars over which keris's voice glides, uncertain and hesitant, trying to convince himself "to get up off the floor"; recalling the barbs as "she told me to act my age"; still in the wishing haze where "i don't even know your name". even listening to it now, it's remarkable for its breathless, nervous selfconsciousness, laying bare the sound of a boy trying to map out his place in the world. after "tinsel heart" then drives imploringly soulwards ("in this stinking little country"... "they want to nail you to the floor"... "don't you ever let them win" - themes to be repeated even more forcefully in later releases), the title track glitters with lyrical preciousness ("and when i saw her... i nearly fell over"), its careful chords merely teasing until its slinky repeated guitar phrase is anchored by the drum machine into a perfectly-weighted outro: and the cascading closing track "things will get better" was even covered by our mates' band in essex, presumably rather perplexing the goth-inclined punters at the pink toothbrush in rayleigh who would have been more used to endless touring from the likes of fields of the nephilim... resuming the grand literary theme (later to be pursued with the creation of harper lee, although that's another story) with the mini-epic "noah's ark", the second ep also provided the satisfying spring in the step of the poppier, melody-filled "i don't think it matters" and "does love last forever ?" but was nothing more than a hint at what was to come. for the third ep, "half-hearted", co-opted the two-minute jangle and fake-brass of "poppy day" from their live set and the taunting, shimmering title track - a blueprint for the self-critical anguish later resurrected by keris and alex in hal's "i wish i hadn't said that" - with the landmark "so you said", which builds unashamedly through a tramway-style backbeat into a many-layered thing of beauty. "what happened to the girl / she used to have a soul / but you get a good price for those". then, slowly, gorgeously, "so you said" fades away, keris murmuring home truths such as "i barely recognise you now" while the interweaving melody lines soar and encircle like vultures overhead, ready to swoop down and drag you to recue the stylus. just hearing it again pricks memories of playing it to a roomful of students the evening i bought it - one of them fell in love with brighter that night too. consequently, if you'd told me in '91 that brighter were ever going to top "so you said", i'd have (politely) laughed in your face, but the insane re-election of the conservative government the next year (nothing breaks young people's hearts like telling them lies) was followed by the "disney" 10" that not only boasted a title to put walt's estate's lawyers on standby, but also apparently snatched the much-coveted catalogue number sarah 69 from the clutches of a certain heavenly. more relevantly, in both "hope springs eternal", a warm-up for hal's "election day" which we will never believe is anything other than the inquest into the cackling reactionary laughter of major john's triumph, and the massive, massive lead track "killjoy" (a tour de force exhibiting real confidence, once previewed unforgettably in the rather unlikely confines of writtle agricultural college), brighter produced maybe their two signature tunes, showing off a sound that had grown up a little more, yet was still hewn from the increasingly seductive blend of the personal and the political. indeed, the last 40 seconds of "hope..." which pursue keris' plaintive observation "how times change", are probably my favourite 40 seconds of music ever, only rivalled at the time of writing by the frantic, frazzled emotion at the end of "anyone can make a mistake" and "he gets me so hard". as we once discussed with some bloke (who turned out to be sarah apparatchik and angel-voiced future orlando frontman tim chipping) at one of the occasional sarah nights that came to the jericho tavern around that time, "disney" was an ep that was as close as a pop group can ever come to writing its own epitaph - not just with its central themes of self-doubt and fragmentation ("am i just betraying myself... or has my fight just gone ?") but, to ram the point home, the fact that the last two tracks on that ep, and this cd, are the short, sweet and brittle "never ever" (with its cheery "goodbye" chorus) and the even more obvious "end", which contents itself with reminding us "maybe this could be the start / of bedsit days and lonely hearts". and so it came to pass that we found ourselves at the bull & gate (where else ?) in kentish town one night not long enough afterwards, watching in muted awe as brighter played their last ever gig, even emerging from their shells sufficiently to provide two encores. and us still murmuring, like keris in "never ever", "please don't leave". but just to have been there, frankly, was very heaven. our only reservation, and it's an inevitable moan coming from anally retentive, formerly floppy-fringed indie snobs and completists such ourselves, is the absence of all the other wonderful material that the world still SO deserves to hear, from the seminal "don't remember" and "wallflower" (the latter of which we must confess to never having heard in recorded form) through "airhead" and "looks like rain" to the poptabulous "next summer" with its godlike "things will be brighter" line which in the way it is sung still never fails to send our heads fair spinning into the wild blue yonder of the ether many fathoms above south london. it is true that including early or rare stuff can often disrupt the flow of a compilation, especially when you're reduced to remastering off played-to-smithereens flexidiscs, but even so our own hope springs eternal that "singles 1989-1992" will re-establish brighter's flame sufficiently to make a future further retrospective at least a possibility. in the meantime get this compact disc (and beg, steal or borrow to get a copy of their 8-track sarah mini-lp "laurel", which showcases further standards like "frostbite", "maybe", "ocean sky" and the stomach churning, tear jerking, superlative defying, vocabulary transcending ballad to end them all, "christmas") and you will have the power supreme. um, since i first fell in love with brighter, so much has happened in my life which - thanks to various judicious redrafts of this review - i shall neither bore yourselves or myself with. i've left battalions of crushes, obsessions and temporary distractions way behind, distractions to whom brighter or their admirable phalanx of contemporaries were invariably the soundtrack. yet in contrast i always suspected that brighter were for life, not just for "christmas". fair play to matinée for indulging the likes of us with this release, and much more importantly for dusting off this particular legend for exposure to a new and thankful generation of music lovers. so, brighter. i guess they're unimportant to you. but they're everything to me.   --In Love With These Times In Spite Of These Times
Brighter's 1991 album Laurel stands as one of the great examples of wrapping sadness in a beautiful package. Gorgeous, gently sung melodies and an overall comforting mood envelop listeners as the songs tell of heartbreak and desperation. Though its memories went on to form or play in other great quiet-pop groups (Harper Lee, Fosca, Pinkie, Trembling Blue Stars) Brighter only released that one album. Yet its singles were just as captivating, as demonstrated by the new Matinée Records release Singles 1989-1992, a 15-song collection of the three 7" singles and one 10" single that they released (all on the now-famed UK label Sarah Records). Taken as a whole, these songs present an even sadder vision of the world than Laurel did. "I say goodbye and I sadly smile/has it all been worthwhile or a waste of time?", Keris Howard sings at the start of "Noah's Ark," bringing listeners to a moment in time that's typical of the sort that Brighter creates songs around. But more than just reveling in depression, Brighter's songs explore the times when we feel at our worst in a way that reveals insights about the human condition. And as with much of the best sad music, the sheer beauty of it leavens the bleakness to make listeners feel less depressed than inspired.   --Erasing Clouds
California’s Matinée Recordings is the truest contemporary equivalent to Sarah Records, the late, lamented British indie label that provided a safe haven for bands who believed that pop could never be too delicate, too submissive, too prepared to leap from the edge of the earth. So it makes sense that the former should pay respects to its spiritual forerunner: first in the form of a 1999 tribute EP, and now in this compilation of one of Sarah’s lesser-celebrated bands. Brighter—a Brighton-based trio—arguably built its entire (albeit brief) recording career upon a single mood of lovesick reverie, evoking the Byrds as played by a cash-strapped New Order. But the cumulative effect of these 15 songs is lovely, as simultaneously blissful and disconsolate as falling asleep in an English summer garden and waking up sunburned. And unlike so much music from its time, the passing of a decade has been more than kind.   --Exclaim!
Imagine walking away from a breakup, or from having said goodbye to someone for whatever reason. You feel melancholy, a little desperate, but strangely reassured and comforted, even hopeful. That heady rush of conflicting emotions is kind of what Brighter sounded like. One of the shining stars of the legendary Sarah label, they made music as gorgeously sad as it was gently uplifting. This set compiles songs from four EPs -- basically, their entire Sarah output apart from the full-length Laurel. While not as revelatory or essential listening as that most prominent Sarah band, The Field Mice, this post-Smiths, pre-Belle and Sebastian folk/pop still deserves an audience -- one that reaches far beyond those original devotees, who are now finally able to replace the lost or damaged vinyl on which these little gems originally appeared. On their earliest songs, this boy/girl/boy trio rarely strayed from the template set in motion with "Inside Out". Muted and hymn-like, Keris Howard's lilting, quietly yearning voice hangs delicately over Byrdsian guitar arpeggios, subtle keyboards, a soft strum and no drums. In the chorus, he repeatedly sings, "I could be happy", almost sounding as if he actually was, but not quite. So it goes until 1990's "Noah's Ark". Three minutes in, a "Be My Baby" drumbeat appears, and so does a flood of possibilities. You can hear the band's pop sensibilities starting to solidify on the nearly breezy, tambourine-shaking "I Don't Think It Matters" and the brisk, bell-like "Does Love Last Forever". They come on full-speed a year later with the exuberant, aptly named "Poppy Day". Capped with a glorious trumpet-like hook and playful, sing-along "ba, ba, bas", it feels like nothing less than a long-lost cousin to The Las' "There She Goes". The five tracks that comprised the band's final EP, Disney, display an ever-increasing confidence and dexterity. "Killjoy" and "Hope Springs Eternal" both inch toward a more charged-up palette with stellar results; those hypnotic, electric outbursts would've been unthinkable three years before. "British Summertime" and "Never Ever" temper fragility with a newfound warmth in uncluttered, direct packages, and "End" signs off with a tinge of regret, but also an air of completion. The band broke up soon thereafter, probably realizing they had taken their distinctive, concentrated sound as far as it could go. Here are no less than fifteen reasons why it's still worth preserving.   --Splendid
For many bands, collecting together three or four years worth of singles would result in exactly half of their debut album, the later releases coming with the sound of a barrel-bottom being scraped. Not so with Brighter, a staple of the lost ‘n’ legendary Sarah label (perhaps the last true English indie label). Brighter only released three 7" singles and one 10" single, and these are they. Together they offer a window into a world missing The Smiths, suffering through (and ignoring) rave culture and yet to experience the first flush of Britpop. In common with much of Matinée’s current roster, Brighter were a high-toned jangle pop band, yet the opening tracks, ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Tinsel Heart’ come with the reverberating guitars and ennui-laden vocals of both The Jesus And Mary Chain and The Stone Roses, prompting the question: might Brighter be the missing link between drone-rock and soft-shoe indie? Perhaps; a lot of ghosts are raised here, ranging from The Housemartins to Galaxie 500. Brighter had their day and they moved on; what they’ve left behind though is a legacy that fed into the later efforts of the individuals concerned - Trembling Blue Stars, Harper Lee and Fosca among them. Now that’s what I call a career arc to be proud of.   --Logo Magazine
Depending on your age or sense of history Brighter could be the band that Keris Howard was in before Harper Lee or Harper Lee could be the continuation of Brighter. Both viewpoints seem valid to me, but I'm one who sees Harper Lee more as the continuation of Brighter. I guess I see it that way because what struck me most about Brighter was the lyrics, vocals and guitar, all of which were provided by Keris Howard. And he's now doing all three of those things, and in very much the same style, with Harper Lee. I'll assume that if you're reading this you probably know something of the history of Sarah records (the internet can fill you in, if not) and a rehash is not in order here. Though Sarah records garnered a fair bit of attention thanks to bands such as the Field Mice and Heavenly, Brighter were one of the bands that seemed to slip under the radar. And while much of the Sarah catalogue could be described as "fey" or "watery", if not down right "kiddie" in the case of Heavenly, Brighter were one of the bands that seemed to break from that style. A more befitting descriptor of the Brighter sound may be "pastoral". They even verge on sounding a bit shoegazerish when they let the guitar go loose. Lyrically, Brighter treaded in familiar indie-pop waters. Subjects such as depression, lost love, and isolation abound in their songs. For some, these topics may seem far too common in the indie-pop world - "not another person crying their heart out in a wimpy pop song. Boo hoo." Yet, the ability to connect with the lyrics of a song is probably what makes most people love the music they love and it seems everyone will have at least a few times in their life when depression, a failed relationship, or feelings of isolation take over their thoughts. Keris Howard had (and still has) a way of singing about these topics in a simple manner without coming off as whiney or pathetic. His delivery remains calm and clear regardless of how much he may feel his world is falling apart around him. 'Half-hearted' is one of my favourite Brighter songs for this reason and one that to this day brings back certain memories whenever I hear it. And while those memories aren't filled with joy, remembering those days can still be cathartic. Now, that's not to say there aren't some upbeat moments to be found. 'Things will Get Better' has that sense of subdued optimism to it that tends to come when someone has hit the bottom and begins looking up again. The guitars, horns, and vocals on 'Poppy Day' are far from sombre sounding and 'Killjoy' has an almost angry feel to it that is quite refreshing in some way. and the classic 'Hope Springs Eternal' has a strange energy to it that can induce fits of spinning in circles despite, or maybe in spite of, the lyrics which are not quite as upbeat as the title may lead one to believe. As with much of the Sarah catalogue, the Brighter releases are relatively hard to find and tend to carry a high price. Thankfully, former Sarah boss Matt Haynes has softened his stance on not wanting to re-release any of the Sarah albums. The Field Mice compilation (though now also out of print), Heavenly's "Heavenly vs. Satan' album, a Secret Shine compilation, and this Brighter compilation from the fine folks at Matinée records have given a new generation of pop fans the chance to hear some of these influential indie-pop bands from days gone by. Picking up this CD will get you all of the Brighter songs released on Sarah singles, leaving only the 'Laurel' LP on the albums to find list.   --Pennyblack Magazine
Brighter is a band for the Monday morning music mavens, a rarefied breed that unearths obscure gems, champions them to the underground, and ultimately discards them once they achieve mainstream acclaim. Of all the labels that released the music these mavens covet, England's Sarah Records might be one of the most revered. This boutique indie released a cache of fabulous recordings that never reached the mainstream radar but always strove for a consistent level of excellence. The Holy Grail of the Sarah catalogue is easily the works of Brighter, who released three 7" singles and one 10" single that disappeared as quickly as the band itself. This new collection, Singles 1989-1992, lovingly delivered by Matinée Recordings, gathers all of the officially released Brighter recordings for the first time to create a time capsule of British music at the turn of a decade. At first listen, this collection appears to be little more than ambient noise for the period that separated the gloomy dominance of the Smiths and the devil may care antics of Oasis, but with every additional spin this compilation shines with the type of unpolished jewels about which music mavens boast. Although the songs provide footnotes indicating that Brighter was part of a greater musical movement, the shining jangle pop that effuses from this gathering of material rings with tender nuances that distance this band from the maudlin routine of Mozzer and the Jesus and Mary Chain, and also set it apart from the fist-pumping, drug-encrusted madness of bands like the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays. Make no mistake, this album will remind you of the Stone Roses' "Sally Cinnamon", Morrissey's "Everyday Is Like Monday", and the Jesus and Mary Chain's "Happy When It Rains", but this is not simply something borrowed and something blue. The marriage of Alison Cousens, Keris Howard, and Alex Sharkey delivered a bouquet of pop hits that deserve the attention of the musical mainstream. The opening two tracks do little to dispel the notion that Brighter is a band that takes heed of their peer's efforts. Both "Inside Out" and "Tinsel Heart" employ mid-tempo, reverb-drenched guitars and protracted monotone vocals that recall the efforts of some of their Mancunian counterparts listed above. In fact, these two tracks sound so similar in melody, tempo, production, and vocal meter that the two-second break between tracks could almost be misconstrued as a measured break. The saving grace is that the melody is so pleasing, and by the end of "Tinsel Heart" light percussion enters the mix and the band seems to find their groove just in time for the world class "Around the World in Eighty Days". While this song relies on many of the conventions used on the previous tracks, there are subtle yet significant differences here. A lead guitar counters the vocal melody in the chorus and the singing seems more urgent if not more improved. Two tracks on this collection rise to the surface and differentiate this band from countless others in the path from the Smiths to Madchester and the ultimate rise and fall of the Britpop revolution that would become a phenomena in the United Kingdom and beyond during the 1990s. The first is "Noah's Ark", a sunny number with an acoustic guitar lead that wouldn't sound out of place in the late '80s Paisley Underground. There is little question that this track could exist seamlessly on the seminal Galaxie 500 album On Fire. Leaning heavily on the same production values, Brighter shuffles along with heavily-reverbed-yet-sparse drums, an underlying keyboard melody to compensate for the vocal shortcomings, and a late-song tempo change that leads to a bit of delightful noodling during the outro. This is a classic track that is wholly original but defty fuses the influence of the American college rock movement of the late 1980s with the more dance-oriented leanings of the British pop underground. The other key track -- and perhaps what may have been Brighter's best shot at a radio anthem -- "Does Love Last Forever" finds their huggable jangle pop reaching a fever pitch that results in a frenetic two and a half minute bounce-a-long. For once the band uses a bit of distorted guitar in conjunction with the clean and the result is a winner. This track may best illustrate the parallels between Brighter and their more successful Smiths-era peers the Housemartins. Both acts crafted fey songs about love and the loss of it, but the Housemartins were able to find greater commercial acceptance. At times this collection mirrors the Housemartins' stellar debut, London 0, Hull 4, with similar song structures, themes, and musicianship. The glaring difference, which may have resulted in the commercial success of the Housemartins, is that the sugary vocal harmonies on London 0, Hull 4 soar while Brighter's vocal deliveries sometimes fall flat. Music mavens spend a lifetime crowing about bands that should have been superstars but were deterred for various reasons. This collection leaves little doubt about both the abilities and the shortcomings of Brighter. While this was a band that wrote wonderfully emotive songs that recall the thing we love best about music, they were never destined to rule the world. Casual music fans embrace a different set of ideals than the more rabid ones. There is no need to look back with remorse on the demise or diminished memory of this fine band, and this collection is a fitting eulogy to a fine, albeit brief, career.   --Pop Matters
Of course it goes without saying that Brighter are far too legendary in indie pop circles for the likes of johnny come latelys like tasty to try and praise them to skies. But...but...it's so hard not to. If these songs weren't the soundtrack to your early twenties - that time of life when you realise that all the pissing about you did when you were eighteen and thought you'd live forever was over - then, quite frankly you missed out. Unless you're into the Harper Lee and Pinkie that is. For those not in the know, the Brighter sound was one of the most intimate indie pop you'll probably ever hear. Keris Howard, Alison Cousens and Alex Sharkey made only a very few bittersweet tunes that turned many a shy boy and girl from bedsit casualties onto something altogether more worthwhile. Y'see in an era when it was considered fucking ace for the Senseless Things to crash into the charts at number 35, Brighter were busy releasing a clutch of records on Sarah that were a godsend for those not down with baggy or fannying around in a plaid shirt pretending that Nirvana weren't crap heavy metal arseholes. Hymns of disaffection, such as 'Inside Out', 'Noah's Ark' and 'I Don't Think It Matters' said a lot more about our lives than a dribbly Manc, and....a smack head from Seattle. And all, yes ALL of Brighter's recorded work is collected together here, in another awesome Matinée package. This is the sound of many years ago now, but don't let anyone tell you that it isn't relevant. After all, you should always keep in touch with your friends.   --Tasty