Album review by KevW
Beach Boys devotees may have already spotted the connection; Banana and Louie were the names of Brian Wilson's dogs who can be heard barking on Pet Sounds (if you have the 4CD outtakes set they have their own isolated track). Taking both their band name and inspiration from that masterpiece, Matt and Sharon from London indiepoppers A Fine Day For Sailing entered the studio to work on this ornate collection of baroque indiepop symphonies. Without knowing this the link would still be apparent, and not just because of the animals on the cover. By the way, they're not telling us which one is Banana and which one is Louie, we have to guess. It's quite likely that they haven't decided themselves, but to join in with the fun/humour them we'll go for Matt being Banana.
There are many references to the Beach Boys experimental phase with Smile/Smiley Smile also being an influence. A handful of tracks on 'Alphabet Soup' are short instrumental sections, echoing the various components and short bootleg tracks that have been doing the rounds amongst collectors since they were shelved back in 1967. Something like the 26 second 'Bassoon's Banana' could be a homage to Smile off-cut 'George Fell Into His French Horn' and there's a recurring piano line/theme that gently suggests we look at this as an album rather than simply a collection of songs. It's probably safe to assume that the 'Caroline' they sing of is the same one who Wilson penned 'Caroline No' about, and maybe the record's title-track is their own version of 'Vegetables'.
Aside from these cryptic references, 'Alphabet Soup' owes as much to the orchestral indiepop of Belle & Sebastain, The School, Camera Obscura and so on. These are incredibly sweet songs and the arrangements are wonderfully thought out, doing just enough to augment their melodic tunes without swamping them. Sweeping tracks like 'Koh Samui' and the lovely 'Nothing Works But Us' might be sugary, but they're heartwarming and endearing with it. You can't help but notice how much care and attention has been put into the instrumentation on this album and it's certainly paid off, just listening to the cinematic 'Reprise' proves that. Of course this won't go down in history in the same way that its heroes did, and it's doesn't claim or try to. 'Alphabet Soup' feels like Banana and Louie paying tribute to the music they love, and as tributes go you can do a lot worse than this gorgeous batch of tunes.
Banana and Louie's website
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