Straight out of the gate, not a single song played, and Spector’s Fred MacPherson has already managed to get a pun in.
Non-Fiction is the first compilation from the London group, and its name is derived from their last album, Moth Boys, which was released on Fiction Records. This compilation collects the subsequent EPs released on the band’s own Moth Noise imprint – hence, non-fiction. Usually, compilations are funny beasts. They tend to be favoured by bands who are perhaps a little over the hill, as a look back at fairer times. This is not the case with Non-Fiction. Spector are a band who are acutely aware of their own mythology, using and inverting clichés at will, which is exactly what’s going on here.
The album opens with tracks from 2018’s Ex-Directory, beginning with ‘Untitled In D’. Aside from the frontman’s inclination towards littering their material with wordplay (‘Untitled In D’, untitled indie, geddit?). The opening track is a neat distillation of why Spector works. It’s a bona fide indie banger, replete with a chorus sure to erupt live, but dig a little deeper and everything here is both self-aware and melancholy.
Spector started off peddling fairly on-the-nose indie pop. Their first album, Enjoy It While It Lasts, was crammed with songs that seemed almost clinically engineered to set a moshpit alight. The lyrics were knotty enough to put them in a slightly more intellectual bracket of indie bands, but what was missing was the jaded, meta quality that their second album, Moth Boys, would usher in. This ironic, detached edge would go on to be perfected over the three EPs gathered on Non-Fiction, and is perfectly encapsulated by ‘Untitled In D’. “Does your timeline make you tired? Has your young person’s railcard expired?” opines Macpherson, channelling a uniquely melancholic nostalgia.
There’s three EPs here, and for my money two stand head and shoulders above the third. The afore-mentioned Ex-Directory is made up of four songs that neatly foreshadow the band’s transformation into a latter-day singles group, and the most recent EP in the collection, Extended Play, released earlier this year, contains some of the band’s most immediate and essential tracks. It is the middle EP then, Reloaded, that feels like the nadir here. Spector’s music works best when it flirts with cliché and canon, and then subverts them; Reloaded can sometimes feel as if it simply slips into the genres and tropes that it is parodying. However, even here there are songs that to any band would be a breakthrough single – opener ‘Love Will Do Your Head Right In’ is a perfect example. In the hands of a lager-indie band it would have pints in the air up and down the country; for Spector it’s merely a throwaway EP track. Meanwhile, the EPs that Reloaded is sandwiched between contain some of Spector’s finest material. ‘Fine Not Fine’ has arena-sized synths, and ‘Half Life’ has both a huge chorus and a desperately maudlin hook – “does it feel like there’s something you’re missing?”
I think there’s something in Non-Fiction for everyone. You can take these songs at face level, and enjoy 45 minutes or so of nicely executed indie pop. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find some really subtle lyrics that stick around in the brain for quite some time. And dig further still, as committed fans no doubt will, and you’ll find a monumental achievement by a criminally underrated band.
Spector have the DNA of a singles band, so it’s a pleasure to listen to a body of work like this and marvel at the references and callbacks that pepper these tracks. Fred Macpherson’s day job is as a pop songwriter, and in many ways this does feel like indie made for that certain breed of pop fan that will obsess over liner notes and recording techniques. I’ve said this before, but there’s a comparison to be made with cult rapper MF DOOM. DOOM is often described as “your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper”, and Spector are therefore “your favourite band’s favourite band”. Neither achieved much mainstream success to speak of, but to those whose opinions matter, they’re some of the best to ever do it.
Non-Fiction is available to pre-order now