Former the Lucy Show main man Mark Bandola has recently let loose the latest instalment in his Typewriter project, ‘Pictures from the Antique Skip' (Moineaux Internationaux), which gives us the chance to draw a little more attention to his previous album, ‘Birdsnest’ from nearly half a decade ago and compare the two albums.

For a collection of songs that are nearly five years old ‘Birdsnest’ (Moineaux Internationaux, 2006), which followed on from Typewriter's 2003 self-released debut album 'Skeleton Key', still sounds surprisingly contemporary and there are not just moments but whole songs that still shine with beauty.

Bandola can, unfortunately, lose his way occasionally and time hasn’t made some of his diversions any easier to understand. On the one hand Bandola must be applauded for having such a wide musical palette and for creating fascinating little works of art most of the time but on the other hand there are pieces where although it is obvious Bandola has put in the same amount of blood, sweat and tears into his work that they simply don’t have the same appeal.

‘No Explaining’ is a good song to take; two and a half minutes of upbeat pop music prefaced by a little fairground organ makes no attempts to be anything other than what it is, a pretty pop song which has more than its fair share of fairy-dust sprinkled over it due mainly to Bandola’s vocals which add that special something to the song. It’s appealing, catchy and could have been cut any time in the last forty years but would still sound good blasting out of a radio on a summer’s day in 2010.

But it’s followed by ‘Quicksand’ a minute’s worth of what exactly? A wordless atmospheric soundscape may well have its place on any number of experimental albums but it’s a head-scratcher as to why Bandola has placed it just at that point on this album. That piece is then followed by ‘Reflections From The Great Half’, which starts as another typical Bandola pop song (and typical Bandola pop songs recall the solo work of Syd Barrett and the like) but ends all too soon so that you’re left with the feeling that it’s a song left uncompleted. The good thing about that, of course, is that when the song is as good as ‘Reflections…’ it leaves you wanting for more.

The sad thing is that if Bandola intended these short bursts of music or sound in-between the longer, more structured songs to add something to the overall feel and mood of the album then he has sadly failed. When short songs like ‘Reflections…’ drift into the next song it also leaves a feeling of frustration as pieces which are this good really should have been extended.

It can work of course, the Small Faces' ‘Just Passing’ is just one of hundreds of songs that says it all in just over one minute and leaves us with a smile on our faces. It feels complete, which is something most of Bandola’s short musical bursts don’t. The opening ‘Silhouette Branch’ is a nice laid-back piano piece but hardly the type of song that’s going to have you reaching for the repeat button. Then ‘Holy Crow’ blasts in and Bandola reaffirms why we can forgive him when he sidetracks just a little too much. It’s the kind of psychedelic pop that Bandola excels at and just makes the following ‘Grey Green X-Ray’ snippet of sound even more annoying. Of course Bandola then follows that waste of time with another little psychedelic gem, ‘Hypnotised For Years’.

At an hour long ‘Birdsnest’ is a brilliant 30 minute album. But it’s all over the place due to the intermissions which interrupt the flow of some really excellent songs. We can all see where Bandola is coming from with his music and what he is trying to achieve but one gets the feeling that he just might be trying too hard at times.

So with the release some five years later of ‘Pictures from the Antique Skip’ has much changed in the musical vision of Bandola? The answer is no. Again he starts proceedings with a short instrumental, ‘Zounds Of Praise’ which again leaves us asking “Why”?

The following song, ‘Bambino’ is so catchy and chock-full of everything we love of this man’s work. Those jangly guitars those remarkable vocals and the fact that there is a feeling of something new every time you hear the song proves that Bandola still has the knack for writing solid pop songs with substance and is still performing them better than a lot of his contemporaries so why does he persist in those short experiments between such excellent songs? ‘Bambino’ wigs out for nearly six minutes and doesn’t put a foot wrong for even a second which shows that Bandola is capable of writing great songs which again begs the question why waste time with snatches of music and sounds that will mean little to the listener?

‘In Another World’ follows one of Bandola’s more successful attempts to record something atmospheric and meaningful, ‘His Lurching Footstep’, but even that pales as ‘In Another World’ is another slice of classic psych-pop from Bandola. On songs like this where Bandola shows his love of sixties pop in much the same way as the Julian Cope’s of this world we feel we can forgive him for his unnecessary excursions but just wish that maybe he could keep the two separate. Maybe an album of his more straightforward psych-pop songs would introduce his work to a wider audience so he could then follow his more ambitious musical leanings.

There are times when these short interludes work. The poem ‘Beachcombing’ works surprisingly well placed as it is between ‘In Another World’ and ‘If I Could Reach You’, but that’s because it’s not too far out there and the songs that envelop this spoken-word piece are two of Bandola’s most accessible and captivating songs to date.

Obviously Bandola is trying to conjure up a certain atmosphere with some of these short experiments and it could well be that is part of the problem; the shortness of some of these pieces. ‘Arctic Circle’ is a song where one gets the feeling that Bandola has expanded what may have well started as one of his more experimental interludes to produce an atmospheric piece which actually has one of his trademark catchy melodies. Proof that Bandola’s more experimental side can also appeal.

Although it walks along the same path as his previous work under the Typewriter banner ‘Pictures from the Antique Skip’ does, given time, get under the skin more than ‘Birdsnest’. There are more songs that are structured and that are more accessible which makes for an easier ride.

I applaud Bandola for making music his way and not following any rules but he does, at times, lose focus. His albums tend to be too long and would attract many more listeners if he cut down on some of the more experimental interludes, but when he puts his mind to writing pop songs as we know them he shines like very few others.











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