Top 10 Twee Albums

The indie-est of all genres, the twee movement —from its beginnings at the end of post-punk to its fully-fledged transformation into its own sub-culture— is often written about in the most condescending of manners. Sure, there was, and still is, a definite sense of infantilism to the bob-cuts and dress-ups and lunchboxes. But this list consists of ten robust works of art; amazing songwriting lurking under rudimentary musicianship, razor-sharp lyrics sung in disinterested voices, and a sense of inescapable sadness lurking beneath the perpetually-upbeat music. In such, these are the LPs that defined twee.
In 1986, British weekly paper the NME gave away C86, a cassette compiling a theretofore insular scene of shy, shambolic guitar-bands steeped in punk's DIY ideals. These ranks included Glasgow's the Shop Assistants, who, that same year, issued their one-and-only, self-titled album. With its buzzy sound, keening guitars, and tambourine-bashing percussion, the record served as the first full-length example of a twee band; though no one identified it as that at the time. Their cover of “Train from Kansas City,” a song by '60s girl-group the Shangri-Las, served as a statement of the C86 scene's artistic intent: harking back to rock'n'roll's innocent history, whilst proudly paying homage to pop in its purest form.
Perhaps the most iconic of all twee acts, Scottish institution The Pastels were formed by boyfriend/girlfriend Stephen McRobbie and Aggi Wright —known, via their records, as Stephen Pastel and Aggi— who'd both fleetingly been in early incarnations of the Shop Assistants. From their earliest singles, The Pastels knelt at the altar of willful amateurism, their raw, rudimentary, barely-together songs somehow capturing a kind of 'truth' in this lack-of-polish. Where most C86-era bands bashed songs out at a furious rate, The Pastels were always unafraid of heart-on-sleeve sentimentality and mid-tempo balladry; and, over the next 20-odd years, they'd grow slower and prettier with each increasingly-scarce release.
Whilst the twee movement began in the thriving UK indie scene, no one individual may've done more for its underground, anti-macho, strictly-DIY aesthetic than Calvin Johnson. In the unlikely outpost of Olympia, Washington, Johnson founded the legendary K Records, fronted the amazing Beat Happening, and, through his own charismatic enthusiasm, sought to create an 'International Pop Underground' of anti-corporate acts from the globe over. By the time Beat Happening released their second album, Jamboree, the ultra-amateurism of their early days had given way to a genuine performative command; Johnson's booming baritone and magnetic presence sparkling on classic cuts like “Indian Summer” and “Bewitched.”
The Field Mice quickly became the darlings of the budding twee scene, issuing 45s for the soon-to-be-iconic Sarah Records imprint that were soaked in a sense of joyous melancholy. The anorak-clad South Londoners were fronted by a near-monotonal songwriter named Bobby Wratten, who could see the beauty in relationships falling apart, or, more noticeably, in his own failings. Wratten penned tunes titled “Sensitive” and “I Can See Myself Alone Forever,” and, in “Fabulous Friend,” infamously sang “I'm not brave/I'm not special/I'm not any of those things.” The debut Field Mice LP was so not-rock it almost seemed to be a provocation; a thought echoed by its unadorned, bright mauve sleeve.
Although they were around for only a year, these Sacramento teenagers quickly became one of the benchmarks of the still-budding American twee underground. Lead by the precociously talented and magnificently voiced Rose Melberg (who'd later go on to author wonderfully sappy rainy-day lovesongs in The Softies), Tiger Trap were the first of the next-generation of twee bands: true genre acolytes who'd grown up listening to Beat Happening and Heavenly 45s, and picked up their instruments as a result. Their only album is a rollicking, knocked-out, knock-kneed pop racket; 12 tinny-sounding, in-the-red distorting, super-melodic songs showcasing Melberg's keen sense of pop chops. Long out-of-print, Tiger Trap is totally overdue for a reissue.
Collecting every one of Talulah Gosh's 25 songs, Backwash is the LP-length retrospective of a band whose brilliant two-year career ('86-'88) didn't actually produce an album. Led by Amelia Fletcher (who'd later front Heavenly, Marine Research, and the Tender Trap), Talulah Gosh's seemingly-innocuous push-beat pop-songs and ultra-girly ba-ba-bas blithely wielded a feminist agenda, undermining masculine rock archetypes at every chance. Fletcher infamously caroled “some of my best friends are bastards like you” on the cuttingly-titled “I Can't Get No Satisfaction (Thank God),” a song which, when covered by The Softies in 1995, symbolized twee's spiritual migration across the Atlantic.

Glasgow's Belle and Sebastian delivered twee to the masses by way of their wondrous second LP, truly one of the greatest albums ever made. When holed up for years with chronic fatigue syndrome, genius songsmith Stuart Murdoch crafted loving character-studies; story-songs detailing domestic dramas and struggles with faith, Scottish winters and adolescent sexual rites. Together, they play like a tender coming-of-age novel set to fragile, acoustic music, delivered with a conspiratorial whisper. Bordering dangerously close to perfection —there's not a single bad song nor, even, a moment wasted on its 41 minutes— If You're Feeling Sinister has slowly gathered an ever-growing, rabid cult following. It's a true classic.

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Acid House Kings 'Advantage Acid House Kings' (1997)

Acid House Kings 'Advantage Acid House Kings'
Acid House Kings 'Advantage Acid House Kings'. Labrador Records
The flourishing of the twee movement owed a particular debt to the cultural stronghold effete indie-pop had on a generation of sensitive, sentimental Swedish kids. Undoubtably the biggest twee devotee in Sweden is Johan Angergård, the frontman of Acid House Kings, Club 8, and the Legends, and the chap who runs Stockholm's ace Labrador Records imprint. Out of his various bands of varying tweeness, the ironically-named Acid House Kings are clearly the twee-est: openly, hopelessly devoted to the iconic jangle of The Smiths, albeit with more of the sweet meekness of the Field Mice. Advantage Acid House Kings, their debut album, laid down the sound that, over three subsequent CDs, AHK have certainly stayed true to.
09
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Camera Obscura 'Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi' (2001)

Camera Obscura 'Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi'
Camera Obscura 'Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi'. Merge Records

Discovered by Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch, Glasgow's Camera Obscura were good enough to wear comparisons to their forebears well. Eight years before the string-swept, hi-fidelity pop grandeur of 2009's My Maudlin Career, the Scottish outfit delivered this tentative, slightly clumsy, intensely melancholy set of classic pop-songs in twee threads. Their debut heralded the arrival of a prime songwriting talent in the form of Traceyanne Campbell, who, across an array of startlingly melodic and perfectly-formed tunes, tossed off lyrical bons mots like “crestfallen boys are boring,” “I don't do crowds,” and “I'm softer than my face would suggest” with a charming kind of studied casualness.

10
of 10

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart 'The Pains of Being Pure at Heart' (2009)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart 'The Pains of Being Pure at Heart'
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart 'The Pains of Being Pure at Heart'. Slumberland
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart sound like a troupe of fresh-faced kids let loose in the library of twee. Which may, indeed, be what they are. The New Yorker quartet, clearly students of the school of guitar jangle, took twee-pop to the masses in 2009 as one of the year's biggest breakout bands. Their self-titled, debut album achieved crossover status by way of great tunes. For their fellow twee scholars, it's obvious “This Love is F**king Right!” is The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's homage to (read: obvious re-write of) the Field Mice's “This Love is Not Wrong.” But for anyone else, it —not to mention “Young Adult Friction,” and “A Teenager in Love” and...— is just a great pop-song.