Friday, 4 February 2011

Hidden gem: Harmonise or Die - Me (Popgod, 1993)

I wasn’t a cool teenager. Growing up in Gloucestershire there were two possible musical routes – heavy metal or indie. I chose the former. It was when I got to sixth form college that this orthodoxy was challenged. There were regular coach trips to indie gigs and being a music lover I tagged along in order to catch some live action. I recall what I considered a dire Wedding Present gig in Newport – although everyone else seemed to enjoy David Gedge’s miserabilism. Far more to my liking was a trip to Gloucester Guildhall to see Bristol indie hippies Me.

The only non-metal album I liked at the time was the Stone Roses’ debut. It wasn’t therefore too much a departure to get into this psychedelic shoegazey collective. I remember thoroughly enjoying the gig ( probably aided by my newfound love of marijuana) to the point that I bought their album at the end of the gig and got it signed. That album was Harmonise or Die. I played it quite a lot at the time until it inevitably moved to the back of my collection where it lingered for 15 years.

I recently picked it up again and had a listen. At first listen it brings to mind a number of bands of the era – Gorky’s Xygotic Mynci for one and the Stone Roses another but the obvious comparisons are with bands on the Creation roster – Super Furry Animals, Primal Scream and, perhaps most obviously, Teenage Fanclub. Having said that it doesn’t really sound like any of them. None of the aforementioned acts featured a recorder in their songs for instance, or for that matter a didgeridoo. This is an album that has a pop heart but dig below and it is awash with experimentalism. It has dated for sure and is very much of its time but if you loved Fuzzy Logic, Bandwagonesque or the Stone Roses you could lose your heart to Harmonise or die.

Me were actually formed in Durham by Francis Kane and George Claridge who moved to Bristol and met Ronan Maguire and brothers Mark and Paul Bradley. Their break came when they hooked up with the Moonflowers, another great psychedelic band in the city at the time. Both bands were signed to Popgod who ruled the Bristol roost until trip-hop hit the city later in the decade. Harmonise or Die was the band’s debut in 1993, they released one other record (Fecund Haunts 1996) before splitting.

The album starts with what can only be called an acoustic lament. It leads the listener into thinking they are going to be hit with a hippy-drippy folk thing but then, just as you reach that assumption, they kick into We Must Be a jangly slice of indie pop. Its quite lovely and makes you want to dance by flopping your head from side to side while wearing a long sleeved t-shirt.

Next track Funny Thing gives us something else again. Beach Boy harmonies over acoustic guitar but very dark lyrics ‘I don’t know how this will end, but I do know that it’s a funny thing, when you let the creatures in and you tremble in the wind’ suggests someone has some serious demons at bay. We then get the didgeridoo-led Here Comes Everybody which has a slightly Krauty beat and Dreambleeding which for me is one of the weaker tracks, a fairly standard indie tune. Much better is ...To The Stars which wouldn’t be out of place as a Stone Roses B-side – its got a lovely bassline and Byrds harmonies – for starters – shame its less than a minute long. The final track on side one is the really peculiar Yousong which consists of someone half-singing, half-rapping numbers alongside someone with what sounds like a helium-fuelled voice which isn’t dissimilar to Madlib’s Quasimoto. Sounds odd? It is.

The optimistic Water kicks off side two ‘You’re the moonlight in the darkness, you shine for everyone’. It has the feel of a  Meddle-era Pink Floyd track. Next up is a straight up electro-folk number and this in turn is followed by perhaps the best track on the whole album. Guilty Feet Fall Foul has a fantastically funky drum beat and yet more lovely harmonies. The playing on this track in particular is very tight with a lovely breakdown in the middle. Paul is another quirky track with some really funky playing. The lyric 'Paul its your birthday, soon it will be over, nothing will have changed.' makes one wonder whether the Paul in question is Paul Bradley or another Paul living in Bristol dining out on the fact that someone once wrote a tune about him. Either way its a nice track. Final track Happy Place is a fitting closer with its piano chords suggesting a lullaby - its a lovely end to an album that constantly surprises and yet somehow still hangs together. It won't be to everyone's taste (the harmonies may grate for some) but its a real slice of West Country exentricity and for that should be treasured.

PS: One interesting thing I note is that the producer was one Andy Smith. I presume this is the Andy Smith that later found fame as Portishead's DJ and curator of the Document series but don't know for sure. If you do, perhaps you could leave a comment?!


  1. This album was fantastic!
    Max, Italy

  2. but i lost it! can't find it again...