The Lucksmiths - Spring A Leak

matcd044  /  September 2007
The Lucksmiths - Spring A Leak
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The Lucksmiths - Spring A Leak

matcd044  /  September 2007

After a notable two-year absence from the new-release racks, The Lucksmiths return with a mighty "don't argue" in the shape of 'Spring a Leak', their exhaustive new collection of lost treasures. No mere greatest hits collection, 'Spring a Leak' compiles over a decade's worth of great recordings that have never made it onto a Lucksmiths full-length: b-sides, alternative versions (from 7" singles and demos), songs recorded especially for compilations, live, radio and TV sessions, cover versions, remixes, and various previously unreleased ephemera. Forty-five songs in all, packaged in a deluxe double-CD digipak with cover artwork by budding Melbourne illustrator Trudy White.

A major undertaking, both for the band and the mastering engineer who had to sift through piles of CDs, old DATs and cassette tapes, 'Spring a Leak' is the first time many of these songs have turned up on a digital format. The 'Macintyre' 7" (recorded in 1995 and originally limited to 500 highly sought-after copies) sits comfortably amongst more recent work including cover versions of well-loved songs by The Bee Gees, The Smiths, The Modern Lovers, and The Magnetic Fields, as well as lesser-known tracks by some of The Lucksmiths' friends such as The Simpletons, The Ladybug Transistor, and The Sugargliders (cousins, incidentally, of Lucksmiths singer Tali White). Also included are live tracks and radio sessions recorded in various corners of the world, from Melbourne to Stockholm, Paris, Bellingham, the Los Altos Hills (near San Francisco), and El Dorado (near, um, Wangaratta).

As ever, The Lucksmiths' somewhat minimalist sound is broadened by a host of guests, from groups like US indiepop stars The Aislers Set, Poundsign, Kissing Book, The Mosquitoes, and Still Flyin', as well as artists closer to home such as Craig Pilkington of the Killjoys (who recorded many of these tracks at his Audrey Studios), Pete Cohen of Sodastream, Kellie Sutherland of Architecture in Helsinki, and Darren Hanlon. Both Kellie and Darren played major roles on The Lucksmiths' acclaimed 2000 album 'Why That Doesn't Surprise Me'.

As on previous compilations 'Happy Secret' (1998) and 'Where Were We?' (2001), The Lucksmiths have done some tidying up around the archival recesses — a little spring cleaning, if you will — and gathered these loose ends into one neatly-knotted bundle more likely to satisfy the completists than to win themselves an army of new fans. By the nitpickingly precious Lucksmiths' own admission, the bar was lowered just a little on this one (although a few tracks originally slated for inclusion were eventually deemed unlistenable, and consequently omitted): there's the odd bum note, and, inevitably, given the nature of the project, varying degrees of quality across the recordings. In its entirety, however, 'Spring a Leak' exhibits both the remarkable consistency and ongoing development of one of this generation's most esteemed and distinctive pop groups.

Although occasionally misunderstood and underrated in their homeland of Australia, The Lucksmiths have in the course of their 14-year career amassed a devoted international fanbase as well as some deserved praise from certain corners of the media. Of their 2005 album 'Warmer Corners', Pitchfork Media described The Lucksmiths as "idiosyncratic but accessible, literate but unpretentious, gentle but not weak, sincere not so much in presentation (cf. Springsteen, Bruce; Confessional, Dashboard) as in presence (cf. Richman, Jonathan; Comedy, Divine)".

  1. Falling Off of My Feet Again
  2. Point Being
  3. The Invention of Ordinary Everyday Things (7" version)
  4. Synchronised Sinking (radio session)
  5. Postcard
  6. The Year of Driving Languorously (radio session)
  7. Even Stevens (radio session)
  8. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
  9. Macintyre (7" version)
  10. The Winter Proper
  11. Anyone's Guess
  12. $30
  13. Get Well Now
  14. A Hiccup in Your Happiness (radio session)
  15. Deep Sea Diving Suit
  16. Punchlines (live)
  17. Snug (alternative version)
  18. I Prefer the Twentieth Century (Hydroplane remix)
  19. To Absent Votes
  20. Make a Wish
  21. Smokers in Love (live)
  22. Are You Having a Good Time?!?!
  23. From Macaulay Station
  24. I Started a Joke
  25. Once Again
  26. How to Tie a Tie (Pipas remix)
  27. Rushes of Pure Spring
  28. Rue Something
  29. Off With His Cardigan! (radio session)
  30. Camera-Shy (live)
  31. Requiem For the Punters Club
  32. Yunta Hair
  33. Dignified and Old
  34. Caravanna (7" version)
  35. The Thought That Counts
  36. Up (7" version)
  37. Boat
  38. Broken Bones (radio session)
  39. Danielle Steel (live)
  40. Dolly
  41. Shine on Me (7" version)
  42. Transpontine (Andrew Kaffer remix)
  43. The Tichborne Claimant (live)
  44. I've Got It and It's Not Worth Having
  45. Your Favourite Shirt


Eight years ago, a little-known Australian indie-pop group called the Lucksmiths released their first compilation of non-album material, Happy Secret. Since then, more multi-dimensional Scottish peers Belle & Sebastian have gone on to hit #8 on the UK albums chart and perform before a sell-out crowd at the 18,000-capacity Hollywood Bowl. American songwriters arguably more precious than this Melbourne four-piece, albeit with inarguably better shticks (albums for all 50 states, lyrics with Victorian and nautical themes, Natalie Portman), have become, if not household, then at least dorm-hold names. Most recently, the younger artist who perhaps best embodies the Lucksmiths' cleverness, vulnerability, and sun-worshiping melodic sensibilities, aka Swedish crooner Jens Lekman, has been crowned "a fully realized pop genius" by Slate. As the Lucksmiths unveil their third non-album compilation, "happy secret" remains as apt a phrase as ever to describe both the band's music and what it feels like to follow them obsessively. Along with a peppy, punning batch of covers, remixes, live recordings, demos, and other rarities dating as far back as 1995, Spring a Leak includes the restrained, elegant B-sides from the two EPs released around the time of the Lucksmiths' eighth-- and most recent-- proper full-length, 2005's Warmer Corners. The ringing chords of jangle-pop predecessors like the Wedding Present and the Pastels resound through phrase-turning tunes about everyday topics: lazy days, drunken afternoons, Scrabble, jokes that have the narrator's sides "splitting" (and his girlfriend, too) and, of course, the weather. Spring a Leak is another treat for longtime fans, and even though, as with 2002 rarities comp Where Were We, it's not the best place for neophytes to start, it's an excellent warts-and-all overview. Among Spring a Leak's vault-clearing 45 tracks, many of the best should give those just discovering the Lucksmiths an idea what to expect from the band's previous outings. A spirited cover of the Modern Lovers' "Dignified and Old", a version of the Magnetic Fields' "Deep Sea Diving Suit" with guitarist and primary songwriter Marty Donald making a rare appearance on lead vocal, and a disappointingly tame male-female duet rendition of the Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" point to three of the most readily apparent influences on the Lucksmiths' songs. Scrappy-sounding recordings from TV and radio appearances here tend to make up with singing drummer Tali White's infectious energy what they occasionally lack in audio fidelity or performance perfection. Either way, it's a cold bastard who can't break a smile at upbeat older songs like balloon-flying "Up" ("I'm an idiotic Icarus"), nicotine-nicking "Smokers in Love" ("You spend Thursday on your backside whistling 'Friday on My Mind'/ Super-supine"), and character study "Danielle Steel" ("A kingdom for a horse/ A condom for a lover"). "Synchronised Sinking" sees White pounding away on his stripped-down, stand-up drum set, his tenor lacking its usual Mozzy polish but no less dapper as he dispenses advice "on a barstool basis"-- "explain, or you'll explode." On Pacific-gleaming triumph "Camera-Shy", Donald's lyrics make old Polaroids and his own wistful self-loathing come alive. Between time-signature changes, the housebound "Broken Bones" finally finds a downside to inactivity. Hell, the Lucksmiths could've easily stopped there and played defense against the critics, but this is a generous compilation, rewarding equally generous listens. An alternate version of the leisurely paced "Caravanna" doesn't change much from 1997's A Good Kind of Nervous original, but it should introduce a new audience to its vivid depiction of wanderlust unfulfilled: "If either one of us could drive/ We could drive away," White sings, ultimately conceding, "I wish there was some furniture that I could rearrange." Newer songs from 2006's A Hiccup in Your Happiness and 2005's The Chapter in Your Life Entitled San Francisco EPs, such as "To Absent Votes" and "The Winter Proper", may slow down the tempos too much for those who listen to the Lucksmiths solely for giddy bursts like bassist Mark Monnone-penned "T-Shirt Weather" (not on this double-disc set), but their nuanced, subtly unfolding narratives of the extraordinary amid the ordinary mark some of the group's finest songcraft to date. On Spring a Leak, the Lucksmiths give more of themselves than we've come to expect in an age when technology and ubiquitous, freely available reviews seem to have led bands to iron out their idiosyncrasies. If this means skippable joke tracks like mildly amusing (one time) classic-rock diss "Are You Having a Good Time?!?!" and the concise, at least, "$30", or a few mediocre remixes, then it also means cover songs-- of tracks by Simpletons, the Ladybug Transistor, and the Bedridden, among others-- that introduce new audiences to the broader, still mostly below-the-radar world of twee-as-fuck indie-pop groups. The Lucksmiths, like the Smiths or the Modern Lovers' Jonathan Richman, are an act whose best moments are scattered throughout way too many releases to purchase feasibly all at once, with even extant singles collections leaving out some career highlights. Still, Spring a Leak is, if not Louder than Bombs mind-blowing, still far more comprehensive than Richman comp Home of the Hits. Yeah, the handful of subpar tracks drag down the rating a bit, but whether we're talking Aussie indie pop or Southern rap (UGK, dudes), it's tough to punish a group for refusing to rip off their fans. With even users of the MySpace-band-besieged Wikipedia questioning the "notability" of Spring a Leak, the Lucksmiths must still be a relative secret; happily, there's no reason to keep them that way.   --Pitchfork
The Lucksmiths' third collection of stray tracks (following 1999's Happy Secret and 2002's Where Were We?) is an epic length treasure trove of indie pop greatness. Stretching across two discs and spanning 11 years, the Australian trio's back pages show a band unparalleled at delivering emotional powerful, melodically pleasing pop tunes. The collection gathers up single B-sides, compilation tracks, rarities (like a version of Hiccup in Your Happiness cut for a TV appearance or Hydroplane’s remix of I Prefer the Twentieth Century) and a bunch of interesting covers. They tackle songs by influences like the Smiths (There is a Light That Never Goes Out), the Bee Gees (I Started a Joke) and the Modern Lovers (Dignified and Old) along with friends and contemporaries like the Magnetic Fields (Deep Sea Diving Suit), the Cat’s Miaow (Make a Wish) and the Sugargliders (Dolly). This collection is absolutely essential for fans of the band, there's no way even the most dedicated follower could have all these tracks. Indie pop fans should also seriously consider adding Spring a Leak to their collection as well, you'd have to go pretty far to find two discs packed with so many stunning songs and brilliant performances, indie pop or otherwise.   --All Music Guide
Why do the Lucksmiths continually get rave reviews from music critics who position themselves as the ultimate insiders, as the privileged listeners who have found the underlying, buried brilliance in the simple lyrics and jangly, easily-digested guitar melodies? Part of it might have something to do with the generally appealing concept of outsider art, with all its accordant myths and expectations. But more than this, the truth is there is a lot to love about the Lucksmiths’ happy-go-lucky acoustic pop songs. Justin had it right on when he described the band’s appeal in his review of their 2005 album Warmer Corners: you find yourself playing this record more than you anticipated, because not only is it easy to the ears, but it’s easy to connect to. Spring a Leak is the Lucksmiths’ Holiday 2007 offering to fans. But, like most material from this band, there’s plenty here for even the Lucksmiths newbie. Well, that’s not 100% true—the press release even admits as much, acknowledging the variable quality of the tracks collected here, culled from radio performances and unreleased demos alike. Still, this 45-track compilation fits completely what we’d anticipate about releases from the Melbourne band. There are the requisite live tracks, the b-sides, and the “rarities”. There is a number of covers, some well-known and others obscure, and an odd remixed track or two. Listening to the two discs through, it’s not surprising that the whole thing washes by in a haze of pleasant Lucksmiths-ness. Over this subtle accompaniment, clever or poignant lines hit doubly hard. “Macintyre” (off an early 7”) boasts a refrain that you’ll be singing right as it makes you wonder how Marty Donald got it so right. “Get Well Now” may be the most beautiful, heartbreaking get-well-soon card ever (“Don’t get well soon, get well now”). You know you’re in the presence of a masterful singer when nothing more than a simple acoustic guitar and this voice can completely transport you. In general, Tali White’s vocals are so smoothed-out as to almost melt away. The preciousness can be a little too affected at times, but more often it’s undercut by a self-awareness that manifests in humor. The band’s keen humor ultimately saves the Lucksmiths from being an overwrought marriage of pop and twee. It’s apparent in the coughing lovers in “Smokers in Love”, or the characterisation of the persona’s librarian lover as having the mind of Sharon Stone in “Danielle Steel”. Live, this slightly messy larrikinism comes through stronger, as on the less successful but illustrative “Are You Having a Good Time?!?!” But despite this, and the band’s occasional forays into more inventive sounds, samples or fuzzy electric guitars, the band continually find ways to reinvent minimal melody to make it charming and attractive again. These small-scale intimacies create a very personal relationship between the songs and the listener. Just like every other critic, I too have fallen under this band’s spell. The Lucksmiths are one of a host of Aussie bands—others include Art of Fighting, Darren Hanlon and Sodastream—who have established themselves as purveyors of smart, middle-class pop music. You don’t associate these musicians with taking loads of drugs, e.g., just with writing insightful and gently insidious songs. If you’re in any doubt, a pair of gorgeous songs on the second disc should be more than enough to convince you. “Requiem for the Punters Club” settles into its forlorn mood over the course of five gorgeous minutes. “From Macauley Station” fades into the corners of its simple tune over a cello accompaniment: “I know by now / That no one cheers up when told to” Luckily for us, we’ll always have a Lucksmiths album to put on.   --Pop Matters
The Lucksmiths’ first two singles-and-rarities collections, Happy Secret and Where Were We?, are single-disc affairs compact and consistent enough that new fans might mistake them for proper albums. Each succinctly displays the Australian band’s smart, funny, sensitive and (perhaps most important) impeccably well-crafted pop songwriting: what has made them absolute musical legends to fans like me. The new two-disc Spring a Leak does not have the same compact approach as the first two, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. This time the release is more of a catch-all in some ways, with 45 tracks – including not just B-sides , compilation tracks, remixes and scarcely released covers, but also a mighty handful of radio-show performances of tracks from their albums. Nearly all of them are fantastic (the others still at least fun and/or interesting), making this a veritable library of Lucksmiths recordings that fans will go berserk over (or quietly fall in love with, depending on your personality). Even fans will likely find great songs they have forgotten about - I was struck by that right from the start, with their snappy/sweet cover of the Siddeleys’ “Falling Off of My Feet Again”, with nice horns on the outro (it’s from the Matinée 50 comp – only 4 years ago, but alas my memory skills are fading). Recent EP b-sides are here, like “To Absent Votes”, capturing the soon-lost hope of an election night, and the beer-drenched bittersweet singalong “Requiem for the Punters Club.” And older 7” tracks, too, like the entire “Macintyre” 7” from 1995 (I like the title track, with its line “I’m not happy but I’m near enough”) and the entire “The Invention of Ordinary Everday Things” 7” from 1997 – both impossible to find. One of my favorite remixes, by anyone of anyone, is here: the Pipas remix of “How to Tie a Tie”, with handclaps and new “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba” backing vocals, and everything else you’d want in a remix (the original song’s strengths, for example). There’s also previously unreleased covers of the Simpletons, the Sugargliders, the Ladybug Transistor and the Cat’s Miaow, plus great released ones, like the Modern Lovers’ “Dignified and Old”, Boyracer’s “I’ve Got It (And It’s Not Worth Having)” and the Magnetic Fields’ “Deep Sea Diving Suit.” The radio recordings include beautiful versions of Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me tracks “The Year of Driving Languorously”, “Broken Bones” and “Synchronised Sinking”. Plus recordings of the band playing “Punchlines” and “Off With His Cardigan!” on Australian TV (who knew?) back in 1998. And there’s of course a ton of memorable songs that I haven’t mentioned, since there’s nothing more tedious than a writer going through every single track on a CD and describing it, when you could just go out and hear the damn thing yourself, and be much happier for it.   --Erasing Clouds
By this point in time, we're more than familiar with the vault-clearing oddities release as a warts-and-all catch-all for all the detritus that piles up in the corners of a recording career. It's a chance for bands to make good on the odds and ends while giving its most avid fans a chance to complete their collections. It's a nice gesture, but, almost always a fans-only affair. But things seem a little different for Australia's Lucksmiths on Spring a Leak, and why shouldn't they? The Aussie band's built up a fan base that's small, but nearly coltishly devoted to the twee pop outfit, as the mainstream, and the better part of the underground, ignored the band's output with an almost equally cultish fervor. By default, for the tragically overlooked Lucksmiths, every release has become a fans-only affair. Spring a Leak assembles a double-disc, 35-cut track list from a variety of singles releases, live recordings, alternate takes and other more-or-less orphaned sessions, and, remarkably, the collection stands together. Although there are a few rough patches -- its tracks span a 12-year period, after all -- Spring a Leak gives fans exactly what The Lucksmiths' back catalog always delivered: sparkly, jangly indie-pop of the purest pedigree. Cover songs pad the list, with everything from reinvented Bee Gees cuts ("I Started a Joke") and stabs at The Smiths' indie staples ("There Is a Light That Never Goes Out") to songs borrowed from The Ladybug Transistor ("Rushes of Pure Spring") and The Sugargliders ("Dolly"), as the band nimbly reconstructs the songs to fit its own blueprint. It's a blueprint that The Lucksmiths follow throughout Spring a Leak, as, once again, the act proves itself to be what every indie-pop act wishes it was. It's smart without coming off as pretentious or nerdy, light without laying on saccharine twee overtones too thickly and knows the difference between nurturing pop sensibilities and going over the top with sticky-sweet melodies. Although the act's studio cuts make the biggest impact -- check out "Macintyre" and "A Hiccup in Your Happiness," tracks that bookend the band's career with its earliest and most recent recording sessions -- the trio/quartet manages to find the magic on stage as a bevy of live cuts prove. If Spring a Leak lacks a little of the cohesion that's turned the Smiths and Field Mice-worshipping act into an underground staple, it more than makes up for it in the sheer verve of its charming low-key pop. If Spring a Leak is a fans-only effort, The Lucksmiths prove just why their fans are so hopelessly devoted to them. Outside of a few iffy live recordings ("Camera-Shy") and some garbage novelty tracks that could have been left behind forever ("$30), The Lucksmiths aren't just impressive. They're impressively consistent.
The Lucksmiths have been around for a long time, and they’re at the stage in their career where they can justifiably release double CD compilations of rarities. Spring A Leak is just that, a 2 disc, 45 track collection that brings together B-sides of singles, obscure covers, remixes, compilation tracks, and best of all, a smattering of radio show session and live performances of much loved album material. The erstwhile Melbournites’ brand of twee(ish) C86 indie pop wont be for everyone, and this may well not be the place for beginners to get aquatinted with them, but if you’re already one of those people who regularly dip into the band’s back catalogue in search of jangly guitars and book-smart lyrics, then you’ll find plenty here to enjoy.   --Leicester Bangs
Rarities discs that cobble together singles, compilation tracks, and live cuts tend to be like photo albums. Here's the musician with embarrassing haircuts, here's the artist uncomfortably dressed up for church, here's the band eating weird fish in Kuala Lumpur. While this kind of scattershot time traveling can be fun for longtime fans, it usually confuses neophytes, who may not understand what all the fuss is about. Happily, the Lucksmiths' new two-CD curios collection serves as an excellent primer on the Australian group's 14-year history and a joyful flushing-out of their back catalog. Spring a Leak offers live versions of early tracks like "Off with His Cardigan!" and "Danielle Steel," when the trio sounded like a twee version of the Jam. It also collects later tunes, in which drummer Tali White sings softer, like an outback Stuart Murdoch; these songs are less clever but still charming. The covers included on this compendium — of the Magnetic Fields, the Bee Gees, the Modern Lovers, and fellow Aussies the Sugargliders — offer insight into the threesome's sweet, mini-orchestral pop style, while remixes by micro-indie acts like Pipas and Hydroplane bring out the act's lyrical eccentricities. All told, Spring a Leak is the kind of photo, er, record album you'll want to return to repeatedly.   --SF Weekly
With the death of Grant McLennan and the dissolution of the Go-Betweens, Aussie twee masters the Lucksmiths are by default that country's torchbearers for literate indie pop. For more than a decade, they've easily been up to the challenge. The new Spring a Leak is a particularly good way to play catch-up, seeing as it collects a career's worth of B-sides and rarities over two discs. So consider, neophytes: If the band can be this good on its cast-offs, imagine what the albums are like.   --Time Out Chicago