It’s unclear, from this vantage point at least, precisely to whom the proper noun in the band Spottiswoode & His Enemies refers.
Is it Roger Spottiswoode, the director of Turner and Hooch and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot? Or is it 17th century Scottish Archbishop John Spottiswoode, or 19th century English mathematician/physicist William Spottiswoode, or perhaps Victoria Cross-winner William Spottiswoode Trevor, a major in the Bengal Engineers who fought valorously during the 1864-1865 Bhutan War, vanquishing 200 barricaded enemy soldiers all while greatly outmatched?
Occam’s razor would suggest it’s probably the band's leader, Jonathan Spottiswoode, an English expat poet living in New York who’s been making music of soulful, shambling grandeur for a decade.
Spottiswoode’s is a moony, crooning voice (not unlike Damon Albarn’s), dripping with wasted elegance. His lyrics are witty and well-turned, dwelling on life and love and sun and rain and occasionally — witness the captivating “Sailing To Byzantium (Passchendaele 1917, A Dying Soldier's Dream)” — on rococo pseudo-history.
He’s aided and abetted by his purported enemies, a supple and subtle ensemble band that flits easily between jazz, soul, folk, and rock. With trumpets and tricky time signatures, with accordions and Wurlitzers and glockenspiels, they recall at various times the smoke-cured continental suavity of Serge Gainsbourg, the latter-day ethno-eclecticism of the Pogues, the turbid moodiness of the Bad Seeds, and the besotted, be-suited croak of a guy like Tom Waits.
With their solid discography and a dynamic stage show, this is one band that should be listened to more than they are. You’ll get your chance on Wednesday night at TT the Bear’s Place, as they celebrate their tenth anniversary and the release of their forthcoming Salvation (New Warsaw).
Joining them will be their friends Spouse, the excellent Northampton indie band, who’ve been churning out infectious, angular guitar hooks since 1995 (when this writer got to know them up at Bowdoin College). Frontman and chief songwriter José Ayerve — who some might recognize from occasional guest stints with the Pernice Brothers — is the linchpin of a lineup that’s been shifting every so often over the past several years, but the band’s punchy, plangent Pixies/Pavement power pop has remained nonpareil, even as they’ve been dipping lately into a more expansive sonic palate.
DOWNLOAD: Spottiswoode and His Enemies, Sailing To Byzantium (Passchendaele 1917, A Dying Soldier's Dream) [mp3]
DOWNLOAD: Spouse, It = Love [mp3]