All songs composed, arranged, written, and produced by James Beattie,” reads the note on Adventures in Stereo’s Alternative Stereo Sounds (Bobsled). It doesn’t mention Beattie’s former Spirea-X partner Judith Boyle, who actually sings the damn things. And it especially doesn’t mention Simon Dine, who, depending on whom you ask, is either a disgruntled ex-manager bearing unfinished tapes or the guy who wrote the music on the band’s first few EPs. Last year, Dine’s team released an album called Adventures in Stereo (on Underground Sounds) weeks after Beattie’s (on Creeping Bent), and he claims to be working on new AIS material.
The earliest AIS songs were barely glimmers, minute-long sketches made from brief sampled loops of anonymous, lightweight ’60s pop, glazed with a few layers of Boyle’s expressionless nightingale coo. Beattie’s new disc trades in those finger-circles for a slightly wider scope: there are live instruments along with the loops, chord changes are permitted, and the songs mostly conclude rather than simply catching their tails and fading to black. Each song, though, still focuses intently on a particular sound or micro-riff—a clipped surf chord, “Good Vibrations” fuzz-bass—suggesting the rest of a grand pop production, like a single facet of a jewel.
An entire gem, in fact, is hidden as an unlisted track at the end of the American edition of Alternative Stereo Sounds: “Down in the City,” originally released on a Scottish single, which pulls together motifs and chants (some from elsewhere on the album) the way incidents from waking life are brought together in a dream. More than triple the length of most AIS songs, it’s mixed with AM-radio density, half-burying majestic horn lines in hiss. It makes the rest of the disc seem like Beattie’s workshop.