A spin-off label from one of the country’s best clubnights, London’s How Does It Feel To Be Loved? Records has been behind some of the most impressive indiepop records of recent memory, from the quiet splendour of Butcher Boy’s debut to 2006’s definitive The Kids at the Club compilation. Over nineteen tracks, The Kids… comfortably proved itself to be a 21st century equivalent of the epochal C86 casette, showcasing established artists such as Suburban Kids With Biblical Names and Voxtrot, as well as more obscure gems by Fosca and Strange Idols. Pocketbooks’ contribution to that album, ‘The First World Record’, was one of its least impressive – a clumsily lo-fi five minutes, which mixed tinny drum machines and Casio keyboards with clipped Motown guitars and vocalist Andy Hudson giving the wispiest, wimpiest vocal delivery this side of Sonic Flower Groove-era Bobby Gillespie.
The band’s debut album Flight Paths comes three years on from The Kids at the Club, in which time they’ve become mainstays at the scene-defining Indietracks festival, and garnered much word-of-mouth acclaim from those in the know. The album demonstrates quite how considerably they’ve upped their game – their sound now integrating some rather gorgeous harmonies, along with horns, strings and (thankfully) real drums. This development is emphasised on tracks like ‘Fleeting Moments’, sung by keyboard player Emma Hall, which rampages like Los Campesinos! tackling ‘The Boy With the Arab Strap’ in a delirious bubblegum burst.
The album is as honest a reflection on being a London twentysomething in 2009 – all Oyster cards, favourite bus seats and Paperchase bags – as an episode of This Life was in 1997, and the best songs here are tinged with a melancholy for the simplicity of youth. The nostalgic ‘Cross the Line’ balances out its lyrical weariness of the 9 to 5 lifestyle (“I’ll manage risks and strategies…as long as I get paid”) by being the album’s biggest floorfiller, aptly pining for “A basement club where there’s space for dancing.” The formula does start to wear thin after a while, though; in particular, the self-explanatory ‘Every Good Time We Ever Had’ charges headlong into twee-ché, literally reeling off a list of Nice Things – “Soft toys, Beach Boys, corduroy flares, kissing for hours…” – while lacking a tune big enough justify the lyrical indulgences.
Occasionally, as with all sugar rushes, there comes an inevitable crash after a while, especially by the second half, where many of the tracks begin to sound the same. Still, the lyrics remain charming as hell, especially on closer ‘All We Do Is Rush Around’, which sounds like a less schizophrenic Ooberman; that said, it’s that song’s title which sums up the album’s biggest flaw. As the album’s bucolic highlight ‘The Outskirts of Town’ demonstrates, Pocketbooks are extremely capable of delivering their big thrills at half their average speed; if they keep rushing around, they’re bound to run out of energy eventually, and it would be interesting to hear Pocketbooks follow that flight path next time around.