Trembling Blue Stars Alive To Every Smile

Although the line-up has changed, and they spent an unusually long time on the recording process, England's TBS has still pulled off an outstandingly delicate pop album. It's ironic that a label known for bringing us the world of grunge rock has now become a home for much "lighter" artists like Saint Etienne, the Red House Painters and, of course, the TBS. Primarily the project of Bob Wratten and producer Ian Catt, Alive to Every Smile is the latest stage in a soft pop lineage that stretches back through three previous TBS albums, a group called Northern Picture Library, and the well-respected Field Mice, who released a wave of amazing music between '88 and '91. Over ten years later, Wratten hasn't lost his flair for this particular brand of nicely produced, emotionally charged music that put him and labels like Sarah Records on the map. With dour, sad romantic themes and the musical inspiration of pop pioneers like Aztec Camera or Prefab Sprout, you get the idea: a sugary sweet sound with a bitter interior. Long time collaborator Annemari Davies only contributes on a few tracks here, as she has pretty much been replaced by Beth Arzy. To be honest, though, the female vocals on TBS songs are generally so textured and processed (think Enya) that it's hard to tell. Even though the ingredients that produced this record may have changed, the music has reached new heights. Tracks like "Here All Day" and "St. Paul's Cathedral at Night" are amazing pop songs, and Wratten has proven himself to be an outstanding and consistently creative songwriter. (Sub Pop)