The word ‘twee’ is still sometimes thrown around as a pejorative in music criticism, but dig a bit deeper and you will find a rich treasure trove of melodic goodness ripe for rediscovery. When twee pop bands began to appear in the 80s. some hated them for their apparent wimpiness or girliness, but in retrospect they had more in common with punk than top 40 pop – like those bands many of the twee popsters relied on their ideas and spirit rather than musical virtuosity.
Twee pop was also notable for rejecting the masculinity of mainstream music as well as its crass commercialism: these records were passed from fan to fan, promoted at DIY gigs and through fanzines. While it remains an underappreciated genre, it was hugely influential, with bands like Belle and Sebastian and Cults drawing on its mighty legacy. Here are some essential records to get your collection started:
HEAVENY – LE JARDIN DU HEAVENLY
Heavenly’s singer was Amelia Fletcher, a key figure in twee pop history who was also the vocalist in Tender Trap, Marine Research and Talulah Gosh, as well as being awarded the OBE for her day job work as an economist. This was her greatest (musical) moment though, a no-filler collection of sunshine-dappled jangle pop. ‘Starshy’ and ‘Sort of Mine’ are eminently hummable pop gems and ‘C is the Heavenly Option’, a duet with indie legend Calvin Johnson, is a cheeky, clever look at the dating quizzes in girls magazines. Not to be confused with the classical metal band of the same name.
THE FIELD MICE – WHERE’D DO YOU LEARN TO KISS THAT WAY?
“I’m not brave, I’m not special, I’m not any of those things” Bobby Wratten sighed on ‘Fabulous Friend’. The Field Mice were special though, perhaps the ultimate twee pop band. While some caricatured them as forever lovelorn saps, The Field Mice were far more diverse than their detractors allowed, moving confidently across genres such as shoegaze, acid house and blue-eyed soul and working in moods ranging from rainswept heartbreakers to mood-lifting, incessantly catchy pop. Highlights of this collection include proto-gay rights anthem ‘This Love is Not Wrong’ and ‘Emma’s House’, an evergreen pop gem. Varied as it is, what ties their work together is a rare sense of intimacy, as though you’re listening on someone’s most secret thoughts.
ALLO’ DARLIN’ – ALLO’ DARLIN’
Named after the greeting favoured by workers at the fish markets, Allo’ Darlin’s first record was rich in tunes and charm. They’re led by unassuming genius Elizabeth Morris, an Australian who moved to London and recruited members such as Bill from the wonderfully named Moustache of Insanity to flesh out her songs, which are at once both light and whimsical and intelligent. There’s something of the wordplay and warmth of fellow Australians The Lucksmiths and a real sense of playfulness and joy: check out ‘My Heart is a Drummer’, an earworm with a melody reminiscent of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’.
TULLYCRAFT – DISENCHANTED HEARTS UNITE
If The Field Mice are twee pop royalty, then Tullycraft are its court jesters – few bands have ever made music this purely fun. All their records sound like rallying cries for their devoted fanbase, but this is their best overall collection, inspired by everything from 60s novelty songs to punk and girl groups. ‘Our Days in Kansas’ is a heartbreaking, finely-observed portrait of a relationship gone sour, ‘Rumble With the Gang Debs’ is like the musical equivalent of an Archie comic and ‘Fall 4 U’ is a dinky little pop song you’ll never get out of your head. Then there’s ‘Molly’s Got a Crush On Us’ which shows their refusal to take themselves too seriously: “Well we’re the best band you’ve never heard / We almost always play to crowds of twelve”
THE PAINS OF BEING PURE OF HEART – BELONG
After staking out their turf with their self-titled debut which included puntastic tales of getting it on in the library (‘Young Adult Friction’) and skuzzy candy grunge (‘This Love is Fucking Right!’), the New York group made a play for the big leagues with this irresistible second full-length. Burying gorgeous melodies under noisy guitars and teaming with a big name producer for the first time, the Pains went for a bigger sound on Belong, but they didn’t lose what made them special in the first place and this is an endlessly replayable collection of songs for outsiders.