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Saint Etienne
I’ve Been Trying To Tell You Zara Hedderman , September 16th, 2021 07:24

Saint Etienne's first sample-driven record since 1993 finds the group looking backwards to the future, finds Zara Hedderman

It’s always fascinating to see trends, in fashion and music, emerge. Especially when you experienced certain styles during their first wave of popularity. Typically, these cycles move in thirty-year rotations. Thus making the sounds and sartorial choices from the 1990s a dominant force in today’s culture and society. That decade had plenty of plaid two-pieces. And then there was Britpop, which partly owes its existence to British guitar-pop bands of three decades prior such as The Beatles and The Kinks. The 90s, however, weren’t entirely spent looking wistful to the past. Musically speaking, it was a defining time for the expansion of dance music’s subgenres. One act caught between the psychedelic palettes of the 1960s and day-glo of 90s club culture was Saint Etienne.

I’ve Been Trying To Tell You places the London-based trio back in time: specifically 1997 through 2001. To accompany the record, fashion photographer Alasdair McLellan has made a short film featuring beautiful scenes shot at various locations such as Avebury, Doncaster, and Grangemouth to compliment the deftly layered arrangements. The underlying theme of this visual representation of the record is memory and how reliable or unreliable it can be as a narrative source. A trailer for the film, with the album’s title track playing, poses the question: “Do you look back on the optimism of the late 90s as a lost golden age? Or do you see it as a period of naivete, delusion and folly?” I've Been Trying To Tell You proves an insightful aid in reclaiming and re-evaluating one's position within history."

Saint Etienne’s music has always had a sense of scrapbooking to how they collage snippets of film dialogue, reinterpret songs of a time passed (go no further than their cover of Neil Young’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ for their 1991 debut, Foxbase Alpha), and switch between dub beats and Italo-disco motifs across their productions. Their tenth record, and first sample-driven offering since 1993’s So Tough, continues to build upon their distinct way of making music that seamlessly melds past and present. From the offset, opener ‘Music Again’ emanates a 90s frostiness from the shiver-inducing chimes and samples permeating the looped melody. Similarly, there’s a frostiness to the percussive fireworks scattered across ‘Little K’, a ruminative arrangement that encourages you to sit back, close your eyes and get lost in thought. In those moments, coupled with the Massive Attack-tinged melancholy woven into the treatment of Sarah Cracknell’s spectre-like vocals and synth and string accompaniments, as a listener, you cannot help but fall into deeply wistful mindest. One that by the end of proceedings leaves you feeling restored.

Coming in from the cold, the last days of summer loom heavily over the record’s mood. ‘Pond House’, the undeniable highlight of the record, evokes a feeling of freedom that comes for three months (weather dependent) each year. The infectious looped arrangement heralds a sun-socialise-sleep-repeat pattern which makes time slip away like sand in a glass timer across warmer days. That transient feeling is held in the stirring synthesised string parts of ‘Blue Kite’, a track whose momentum is subtly impactful and rousing. In those masterfully produced songs, you can feel the humidity within the spacious textures.

What Saint Etienne articulate across I’ve Been Trying To Tell You is that thirty-one years into their career, their propensity to completely envelop their audience is as palpable as ever. Without hesitation, their latest offering is amongst their finest work. One that will certainly sound and feel as resonant and elevating over the next three decades and beyond.