“I just miss how it felt standing next you, Wearing matching dresses before the world was big.”
With that, the special place this album holds in my heart is epitomized. Because when I hear that I’m transported to every moment of transcendent connection I’ve ever felt. It reminds me of every new friend I’ve ever made, every new love found and every new exciting moment. It takes me back to hanging out with a girl I like in a field, young; smoking cigarettes, listening to music; the flame of a potential future burning in my chest. The paralysingly simple riff of Ideal World conjures up the pleasant phantom of first being introduced to cool subcultures and different attitudes; wandering around school like a ponce with motif button badges all over my blazer. “Tranquilize me with your Ideal World…”
I remember having a debate with a friend when we saw them live over the meaning of Cherry Picking (my favourite song on the album by some margin), particularly as it pertains to the choral refrain: “Yes I am picking cherries, I have a hard time staying clean.” I thought addiction a likely inspiration, whereas she wondered if the ‘picking’ of said cherry was a virginity metaphor… who knows. The important thing is that it could be both, or neither.
There’s a lo-fi simplicity to this record that I haven’t really heard anywhere else since (even from the band’s own follow-up): a youthful, uniquely feminine, sing-songy quality – with just enough Grunge bite when needed (see: Crowded Stranger) – sort of like if Daniel Johnston were to emerge from his basement, plug in an amp and pop on a dress. Most of the album is just guitar, bass and the band’s melodious, intertwining vocals, but it works perfectly because it doesn’t need to be anything else. This album is meant to sound comprised of songs made in a bedroom by starry eyed teen-aged girls, because it essentially was, and it does so perfectly.
Saying this, the album is not flawless. Magnifying Glass – the strange, bombastic interlude between (for me) album highlights Cherry Picking and Crowded Stranger – is unnecessary at best, and irritatingly jarring at worst. On top of that, though I have nothing specific against it, lead single Chinatown has always sat somewhat flat to me, never quite showing the sense of dynamic spirit that the rest of the songs have. To me it plays more like a demo for the band’s ability, or a sort of template from which all of their interesting songs can jump off.
But the reason why I love this album so much, why I still listen to it three years later, is not the collection of songs, nor exactly the musical style, but a palpable feeling. For me it is inextricably linked to the time that I was first listening to it. Considering that I’m basically the same age as the band, whenever I hear it I remember that insecure, exhilarating feeling of ferrying a youthful sense of wonder and hope delicately into the adult world.
I remember the fear, I remember the fire, and I remember that ecstasy of blue-sky wonder, Before the World Was Big.