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Press for Airshow:


          Although he masquerades behind a tedious university appointment by day, Clayton Scoble is secretly one of Boston’s most prodigiously gifted songwriters, a purveyor of delicious pop melodies played from inexplicable angles, whose approach to a song involves sneaking up from behind it and dragging it, backwards and blindfolded, through a thorny melodic labyrinth. (This is a good thing.) Put in rock-geek terms, Scoble is the rare and genuine heir to a highly selective lineage that includes such whispered names as Scott Miller (Game Theory/Loud Family), Alex Chilton (Big Star), and (perhaps) the pre-Diana Krall-era Elvis Costello. Scoble spikes the punch with evocative but sense-scrabbling lyrics which suggest more than they actually mean; he shares Richard Buckner’s ability to write compelling words which keep clarity at a telescope’s distance, but which nonetheless still carry an intuitive emotional weight.

Francine has been the vehicle for Scoble’s quizzical and catchy-as-hell music since 1997, when he assembled the group via a handful of home demos circulated after the demise of his prior group, Poundcake. The freshly-minted quartet issued the Pop Warner EP, a tentative shot across the bough that was immediately trumped by a brilliant full-length debut, 1998’s Forty on a Fall Day. As Francine raked in the accolades following Forty’s release, Scoble sat in on several of Aimee Mann’s albums and drafted local pop mastermind John Dragonetti (aka Jack Drag) to produce and arrange Francine’s second disc, the moonlit 28 Plastic Blue Versions of Endings Without You. Whereas Forty on a Fall Day received mass acclaim for its guitar-heavy, quintessentially Bostonian garage-rock sound, Plastic Blue generously ladled Dragonetti’s synth-and-loop soup over a more reflective brace of songs.

Clearly not one to rush back into a good thing, Francine took three more years to fully realize Airshow, their third and newest album. One might call it, with varying degrees of praise and/or accusation, a more mature sound: continuing to evolve away from their early pop explosiveness, Francine demonstrates a more surefooted and organic use of studio embellishments. Stood inaugurates the album on an ominous note, a descending spiral-staircase melody suspended in a processed organ drone which hovers like an unwelcome ghost beneath the lyrics’ ten uncertain lines. Zeros and Ones restores the emotional balance, rocking gently like a hand-crafted Fleetwood Mac hammock held aloft by autumnal bossanova guitar chords and creamy electric piano. Airshow continues down this beautifully ornamented path, catching synthpop pulses in its butterfly net on Day Sucker, blasts of Beach Boy harmony on Here Comes, subliminal smears of field recording and short-circuiting organ on Storrow Drivers, and countless other thoughtfully-deployed details. Listeners with a short attention span will likely find themselves drifting about two-thirds of the way through this resolutely mid-tempo collection, but insomniacs predisposed to late-night headphone reveries will want to stick it out for the sleep-encrusted coda of Beatrice, which ushers Airshow through the closing credits like a gorgeous, Vaseline-smeared sunrise in reverse.

Francine’s early electricity may be a memory, at least on record, but it’s been supplanted by a depth that the more immediately gratifying air-guitar rock of their early single Trampoline could hardly have predicted. Scoble and companions may continue to languish under whatever cruel radar separates the full-timers from the weekend warriors, but Airshow is decisive proof that humankind offers better and more noble things than our base daily occupations may reveal. Let the pink slips start here.

                                                                                                      - Myke Weiskopf, Edge Boston


          Francine, the Boston quintet led by singer / songwriter Clayton Scoble (ex-Poundcake), have downshifted their sound from the spit-shined power pop that defined it around the turn of the century. They’ve become purveyors of chilling spectral pop. Now things operate by cautious design, in incandescent streaks of painted movement. Flares of guitar echo and manipulated tape, a rhythm section caught in self-sustaining Pavlovian flux. The chime of steel strings and clench of bass frequencies caught in a gentle spin cycle. Airshow, the band’s third LP, details the fruits of this gradual transition with a photographic kind of proof, its cumulative effect dreamlike and disorienting.

So instead of relying on the big meaty hooks of past triumphs like 2000’s Forty on a Fall Day, Francine is now hunting mood and banking on the power of reinforced texture. It’s a tricky move, no doubt, not as instantly agreeable or as obvious as the feisty rock rave-up, but one that has even more satisfying returns over time and commitment. Down from the high-altitude rush of a song like “Trampoline”, down even from the sweetly motored resignation of “Fake Fireplace Things”, the so-called “catch” songs on Airshow—those that could represent the album as singles—hibernate within their would-be roles. “Zeros and Ones”, “Connectionless”, and “Ugly but Rakish” are thrilling in their own anti-thrill way: they don’t cater to wham-bam rock craves, but to subtler gestures of concentrated repetition. This is a band with more Tortoise than T. Rex on the brain.

While the band can take most of the credit for this concoction of circuitous style (the climactic multi-instrumental build-up of “Penn Station” is a highlight of the record), Scoble’s songs are typically top-notch. He’s always been one to combine elegance with obscurity (as a wordsmith, he’s both clever and evasive), and the soft-focus template of Airshow makes for prime exploitation of that talent. The songs are populated with references to electronic interference, batteries and ring topologies, still and moving photography, highways and train stations, optical illusions (naturally) and crystal-clear reminiscences, all of which enrich the record’s enigmatic content.

Scoble delivers his imagery-burdened code like fantastical bedtime stories, coddling the words in his mouth. The cinematic scenes are ones that would drive a lump into the throats of most—“So you learned to shift left-handed at night, / So you could memorize her fingers in your right” and “The grackles gather like luckless offspring” from “Day Sucker” and “Storrow Drivers”, respectively, are good examples of the lovely sadness at the heart of these songs—but whatever lovesickness is left in Scoble’s voice is overcome by the beautiful haze the band drapes over it all.

This all adds up to a peculiar and fascinating pop record, one that hides its hooks in haunting affirmations of melody and a very un-rockist show of monkish restraint. A band at the beginning of its career could never have made a record as subtle and secretive as Airshow—their inexperience, their young drive to bang the music into shape, would have bred something much more self-conscious. Francine has played the rock band role expected of it, and done it well. Now there are more evasive things that need chasing.

                                                                                                        -Zeth Lundy, Pop Matters



Press for 28 Plastic Blue Versions of Endings Without You:

          Clayton Scoble was the improbably-named fella behind Poundcake, and now the singer/songwriter of Francine. He writes songs with heartbreaking chord changes and an almost perfect sense of what needs to come next after what, and then messes them up with lyrics that just don't make no sense...and I love that. He is the perfect specimen of that genus called The Massachusetts Smart-Ass, a genus that includes some of my
dearest friends and, for six years, me. But that power is here used for good, not evil, and results in some funny and sad and sexy and nice and very strange songs.
They're all structured like indie-pop songs, harmless little fun new wave pop songs that couldn't hurt a fly. "This Sunday's Revival" is a sweet Wilco-like number about finding a cool bike and fixing it up, and it's got
more hooks than that dude in The Cell who was getting suspended by his back-skin. But who'd write a song these days about fixing a bike, and maybe it's not about the bike after all, and I don't know what it's about really anyway. But I like it a whole lot.
Every song here has its moment of "What the Hell Was That?!?!?" built into it. "Albany Brownout" is an Aimee Mann-ish waltz number with lyrics like "Eighty leagues below / San Bernardino / spit into your mask I'm lit /
but game to bask in your retrofit / check C2O and go." This makes no sense, and neither does the central metaphor comparing a failing relationship to "Fake
Fireplace Things," and neither does the fact that Scoble spends "Novelty" taunting someone about ice-cream bars in the freezer while talking about how he's "Dahmer-creepy" and how the other person is not quite "a typical
cartoon German," but who cares? They're all songs that will stick with you forever, whether you want them to or not.
As for the sound, we're talking about jangle-pop,, and Pavement all mixed up together. Aaah. Doesn't that sound sweet? You know it does.
Scoble couldn't get any more Scoble-esque than he is here. (His band, by the way, deserves to be mentioned. There, now I've mentioned them.) I don't know if this is his masterpiece, but I'm reserving it a spot in my top 10 list right now.

                                                                                                    - Matt Cibula ,


Press for 40 on a Fall Day:


          Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was to spring and Guided by Voices' Alien Lanes was to summer, Francine's crackerjack debut is to autumn -- the aptly titled Forty on a Fall Day feels like the perfect seasonal soundtrack. The songs recall those sensitive high-school-hallway introverts who spent way too much time scribbling cracked, smartly funny lyrics for imaginary new-wave bands -- in other words, people like Francine singer/songwriter Clayton Scoble. With a melodic voice that brings to mind XTC's Andy Partridge covering a Pavement tune ("Mean As Hell" and "I Do Too") and fellow players who keep finding the inspired sweet spot between both, the ex-Poundcake singer puts his literate, scene-stealing imagination on a display that's as self-depreciating as it is precocious.
"Pop Warner" is the obvious ear catcher, with its fantasy-crush tale about Scoble clumsily hanging with Kim Deal in a dream -- and still feeling as if he were screwing up the date like a geek. But a B-squad of other lovable shmucks keep popping up like Waldos amid Scoble's sly wordplay and crowded scenery. There's the temping key grip who pines for the "head sand stager" on the set of an '80s movie ("Set of Dune"), and the daydreaming "understudy with the overbite" on "Jet to Norway." And, of course, throughout these tracks, there are the eminently charming guys in Francine.

                                                                                               -Jonathan Perry, Boston Phoenix