Stop me if you've heard this before

The Isles' debut album, Perfumed Lands, sounds like a collection of Smiths demos from 1983, writes Dave Simpson.

A Rickenbacker guitar strikes up a mournful chime. A distinctive wail bursts in: "I'd be dead ... but there's nothing worth dying for." This isn't some rediscovered lost Smiths obscurity but a song by a new band called the Isles. Their debut album, Perfumed Lands, sounds like a collection of Smiths demos from 1983. Meanwhile another band, Voxtrot, have a song, The Start of Something, that sounds eerily like an early attempt at This Charming Man.

There's nothing new about bands borrowing from the Smiths - British groups were at it a decade ago. What's different about the latest lot is that they're American. The Isles hail from New York; Voxtrot are from Texas.

The musical appeal of what Isles guitarist Ben Haberland describes as "the Smiths aesthetic: sharp songs which don't insult your intelligence" is obvious to many pop fans. It's less clear why a new generation of Americans are relating to Morrissey's ancient diatribes about "struggle and pain" in "rented rooms in Whalley Range".

"We relate to the Smiths' lyrics because they're about finding out who you are," explains Haberland. But while Morrissey has become a national institution in Britain, the Smiths remain a cult in the US. "It's almost a secret society, being a Smiths fan," says Haberland.

One person with more cause to feel alienated than most is Voxtrot singer Ramesh Srivastava, a Texas-based American-Asian Smiths fan. Srivastava was never concerned by Morrissey's use of the Union Jack and ambiguous songs such as National Front Disco and Bengali in Platforms. "Judging by Morrissey's general ambience and publicly stated opinions, it seems doubtful to me that he is racist," he insists. "I love the Smiths."

Neither of these bands are clones of the Smiths. But the similarities are undeniable. "There's not too much ground left to be broken in rock anymore," say Haberland. "So it's really about great songs and emotion. If that means sounding like the Smiths, I'm happy." A Smiths fan "happy"? Only in America.

· Perfumed Lands is released on August 7 on Melodic; Voxtrot's debut UK single Mothers, Sisters, Daughters and Wives is available on Full Time Hobby


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The greatest albums you've never heard
Last month we listed 49 musical secret weapons - albums that are obscure but incredible. We asked you to tell us what the 50th should be. The response was overwhelming, so here are 20 more albums, chosen by you, to inspire, dazzle and sometimes baffle.

03, Nov, 2006 @12:49 PM

You've got Mael

Sparks continue to fly, says Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

10, Apr, 2008 @11:24 PM

The best singer you've never heard of

Bob Dylan was a big fan, like most of those who heard the late, great vocalist. Now, 14 years after her death, Karen Dalton's time has come. By Laura Barton.

Laura Barton

23, Mar, 2007 @11:56 PM

Article image
Nottingham's music scene: soon to be heard?

Its biggest claim to pop fame was once Su Pollard. Now, a formidable new generation of Nottingham artists is emerging. Mike Atkinson discovers a city with big ideas

Mike Atkinson

29, Sep, 2011 @9:00 PM

Article image
'Catalyst bands': What do you mean, you've never heard of them?

They're the groups who never became stars – but inspired countless other musicians, or laid the groundwork for something bigger. Dave Simpson talks to the 'catalyst bands'

Dave Simpson

21, Jul, 2011 @9:01 PM

CD review | Annie: Don't Stop

It's a delightful confection, filled with attention to detail and perfectly turned – and deserving of your attention, says Michael Hann

Michael Hann

30, Oct, 2009 @12:01 AM

James: The Night Before | CD review
Age and vulnerability have given Tim Booth's discourses on insecurity more clout than usual, writes Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

15, Apr, 2010 @9:05 PM

Article image
Midlake: 'I wish I'd heard Black Sabbath in high school'

Texas rockers Midlake grew up playing jazz, but fell headlong into a love affair with vintage rock. They tell Sylvie Simmons about their latest fixations, and why the new album took three years to make

Sylvie Simmons

28, Jan, 2010 @9:30 PM

Article image
Paul Weller: 'You've got to be willing to upset people'

In his hatred of the 'nostalgia circuit', Paul Weller has constantly reinvented himself – and shed people who've been at his side for years. Ruthless? Just realistic, he tells Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

26, Aug, 2010 @8:30 PM

Article image
Magic gig moments: 'You've got to get naked on stage'

Singer Dan Mangan says that powerful moments on stage come from tuning in to your vulnerability

Dan Mangan

24, Nov, 2011 @10:00 PM