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A Deft Blend of Conjured Pop Idealism – Three Minute Tease’s “Bite The Hand”

Three Minute Tease
Bite The Hand
Idiot Records

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Continuing our series of “Oh no, we forgot that one?!?,” Stereo Embers rescues both its reputation and a sparkling lost gem of 2014, Three Minute Tease’s sophomore release Bite The Hand.

It’s in the first few notes of “Bravely Fade Away,” Bite The Hand‘s leadoff track, that the thought hits: ‘Oh crap, I think I fucked up’ and I reach through a fog of regret and futility for my Top 10 list for 2014. Besides pointing to the inherent flaws in such a year-end exercise, that opening gambit bestows an often rare credence to the power of the band’s collective past, as the hyper-prolific, now UK-based Sackamenna kid Anton Barbeau’s meet-up with erstwhile Soft Boys Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor pays dividends so quickly it actually did make my head spin, or anyway made me unreasonably dizzy. It’s just Barbeau’s voice over a friendly acoustic strum to start, conspiratorially wry as it imparts the helpful nugget Well you can cry all night but you’re still gonna die at the end of your life if not sooner. Immediately the melody’s in place, the sweet but middle-of-the-dead-dark-night croon has gotcha, and by the time the whole band dynamic crashes in on an updraft for the chorus we’re in the midst of nothing less than nerve-tingling classic territory and I almost wish I was being the least bit hyperbolic because sober prose is generally more credible and that might make the reader more likely to believe me but I’m sorry this is no time for sober prose but instead immodest praise (and run-on sentences, apparently). There was a time when Metcalfe and Morris’ former employees (Metcalfe has also spent time with Squeeze) produced material of this caliber – all blooming pop suss with sharpened immortal hooks seeming to appear out of the ether – with an almost alarming regularity and effortless élan. That time has come again.

As anyone in the know must surely know, this is the Tease’s second album following on from the 2011 self-titled debut which, not being at that time one of those knowing, I missed, shocking but true. I will, however, take Metcalfe’s word when he says that first record was very good and will further trust him when he adds that this one’s better, for this one borders on the pop-stonishing, and much of what makes it such is the band’s astute – uncanny, even – ability to cobble together several hydra-headed ideas into one confluent mini-masterpiece and do it time and again. As Mr Windsor asserts, Bite The Hand is “swarming with noises,” but as with most swarms out there in the cosmos, there’s a great logic to them and they’re buzzing with life.

3 min tease karen eng

[photo by Karen Eng]

Second track “Drinking Horn” boasts a music hall swing swung like a lysergic romp through prehistoric and Biblical shibboleths before free-roaming over English fields that magically lead to a stein-waving Berlin, a tune that, besides having the good sense to shove Dick Cheney into hell along the way, also gives an allusive dose of Dukes of Stratosphear dipped in snark. Then there’s the triptych stuck smack in the middle of the album. “Beanpole” sports a McCartneyesque sprightliness, thanks in no small part to a triply supple bassline, goes plumping for Bowie circa Ronson at the bridge only to go running out at the end with an Attractions flourish that itself deadends into “A Day in the Life”‘s final piano chord, the song sounding in its course nothing like any of them exactly or rather like all of them chanced together into an outfit called Three Minute Tease that has that recombinant DNA thing going on. From here we bolt into the album’s shortest, most whimsical track, “Ciao Ciao Chicken” and, well, imagine Queen trying their hand at a touch of ludicrous space pop while dressed as dadaist farmers and you get the audio picture. And speaking of space, “When I Was 46 in the Year 13,” dances with reckless glee all over the popsike template – there it is, lying all broken on the studio floor – sprinkles some discordant piano about, lets a synth go all cosmic wibbly, gets lost outside the space-time continuum soon after speaking to a priest in a dream, crashes around the mix like a tiptoe bull in a psychedelic china shop, and just generally conducts itself like the piece of mad defrocked genius pop that it is. Andy Partridge cohort Stu Rowe, who helped addend a portion of the craftily abundant overdubs, can meanwhile be heard smiling in the background.

Not that Bite The Hand is all the work of whack collagists nailing their joint triumphs inside the walls of your consciousness. Sometimes the album’s more direct than that. “MTV Song,” with it siren guitar and its chugging undercarriage, comes on as a kind of Dead Kennedys punk camp though, admittedly, the hooks – think the Waitresses with a whiff of the Residents – swirling around the manic throwback of a revenge fantasy – fellow stole his song, y’see, put it up on MTV – would leave Jello and the lads, much as we love ’em, in a breathless heap not knowing what hit ’em. “Drain The River,” meanwhile, plows an unapologetic 80’s-shaded synth-wave vibe played at river-dragging pace and invoking John the Baptist lost somewhere along the mighty Sacramento, while “Tie My Laces,” by far the sweetest – or rather most bittersweet – offering on BTH, is a straightforward piano-based ballad that flows amid a synthesis of glowing nostalgia and coming doom (join with me, I’m celebrating / four more years and no more butterflies), proving the Tease do the aching poignant as well as the overflowing giddy.

Mostly, though, it’s the powerfully-focused all-over-the-placeness of the record that will capture, be it Gong sharing a bong with the Flaming Lips during the latter’s popped-out psych heyday (“Coffee That Makes the Man Go Mad”) or the gentle farewell of the last track called, with soporific perversity, “Wave Hello” that’s built around a phat comforting bassling and a layer of shimmering noise that lulls, and lulls, and lulls some more until of course the coda comes bursting over the knoll with a buzzing-in-the-sun guitar solo that turns the song into a fading summer anthem, all inescapable melancholia and mortal reflection.

Bite The Hand, in all its majestic seamlessness, in its playfully deft blend of conjured pop idealism and the unvarnished hard truths often wrapped inside its twinkling exterior, certainly qualifies, from SEM’s vantage, as perhaps 2014’s most overlooked album. I fault myself for not giving this record its proper attention back when it arrived in my inbox in late October. I feel rather self-aggrieved, if that’s possible, and strongly recommend you don’t make that same mistake. Get this now. It’s hard to think of a better record to build a new year on.

[Bite The Hand available in both digital and CD formats here]