The Clouds "Tranquil" (1987)

“Twee pop” is a subgenre of indie pop which typically affects an exaggerated degree of sweetness and innocence, usually in lo-fi fashion. Often marked by jangly guitar sounds and vocals that are either childishly high-pitched or nasal to the point of being foghorn-like, twee pop usually explores the sadness of young unrequited love. The early twee pop scene of the late-‘80’s and early-‘90’s primarily originated in the post-Smiths U.K. The 1986 cassette titled C86, a various-artists indie-pop compilation issued in the U.K. by NME magazine, is widely regarded as twee pop’s defining starting point.

Some of the best-known artists who have worn the twee pop tag – whether they wanted to or not – have hailed from Scotland, including Belle & Sebastian, the Pastels, and Camera Obscura. (Some would also classify Teenage Fanclub as a twee pop band, although I would not). There was once a band called the Clouds who resided in that same country during the C86 era, but they released only one single which reached Number 13 on the U.K. Independent Singles Chart in 1988, and then they vanished. Short lifespans are not uncommon for twee pop bands, but…Wow.

The Clouds consisted of brothers John Charnley (guitar and vocals) and Bill Charnley (keyboards and vocals), bassist Andy Brady, and drummer Gino Ionta. Their one U.K. indie single was titled “Tranquil”. The song had a jangly guitar sound, but was less precious and better produced than many other twee pop songs. The understated lead vocal was not high-pitched, but also not as adenoidal as some, and was mixed at a level just above the bed of guitar sound. Despite the title, the lyrics convey emotional insecurity; a slightly agitated guitar solo was cleverly mixed in like a vague dream. A great little find.

The B-side on the 7-inch single was titled “Get Out Of My Dream” (no relation to the similarly titled Billy Ocean song). This jangly song is a bit faster-paced and catchier than "Tranquil", with a bit more emotional anxiety. It’s equally as good as its A-side. The 12-inch version of the single featured an additional B-side track titled “Village Green”. It's an even faster-tempo song about love’s frustrations, with an almost punk-like jangle riff matched with a more winsome lead vocal. It's a shame that the Clouds did not have a long enough lifespan to complete a full-length album, but if a band is going to only release three songs, then they ought to be as good as these three.

The twee pop subculture in the U.K. bred communities of tape traders and publishers of small fanzines. A flexidisc called The "Bring Back Throwaway Pop!" EP, which was included with the third issue of a U.K. indie pop fanzine called Are You Scared To Get Happy – as well as the third issue of another fanzine called Baby Honey – contained the Clouds’ only other known recorded track. “Jenny Nowhere” has a more lo-fi sound than the songs on the single, and less of a melancholy feeling. The lyrics are even harder to understand, even after they are deciphered, but underneath the fuzz the tune is as infectious as their other songs. It’s worth noting that a female voice seems to be present – although it may actually be a Charnley brother singing with twee pop preciousness. The other song on the flexidisc is from an almost-as-short-lived English band called Mighty Mighty (one of the C86 artists); it’s an alternate – and inferior – version of that band's extremely Smiths-like 1986 single “Throwaway”.

So…How has a band who had such an ephemeral existence not been totally forgotten more than 30 years later? All four of the Clouds’ songs have turned up on various-artists indie pop compilations released in the U.K. on such labels as Castle and Cherry Red. And the song “Tranquil” has gained some extra fame due to it being covered by the Springfields in 1991. Who were the Springfields, you ask? They were an American twee pop band formed by Ric Menck and Paul Chastain, later of Velvet Crush. They released a few singles in the late-‘80’s and early-‘90’s, and – surprisingly enough – their complete recordings are about to be reissued on a compilation album titled Singles 1986-1991 in November 2019. The Springfields’ version of “Tranquil” is more precious than the original, with a boyishly innocent lead vocal by Menck, and a less dreamlike guitar sound. The Clouds’ original is the better version, but the Springfields’ remake is the one more likely to stay in your head like a pop earworm. And if that helps to keep the memory of the Clouds alive, then…good.

The Clouds - Tranquil / Get Out of My Dream

The Clouds “Tranquil” (7-inch single) (Subway Organization SUBWAY 12) 1987

Track Listing:

a. Tranquil
b. Get Out Of My Dream

The Clouds “Tranquil” (12-inch single) (Subway Organization SUBWAY 12T) 1987

Track Listing:

a. Tranquil
b1. Get Out Of My Dream
b2. Village Green

The Clouds / Mighty Mighty - The

The “Bring Back Throwaway Pop!” EP (flexidisc) (Sha-la-la Records ba ba ba-ba ba 001) 1987

Track Listing (in reverse order of actual pressing):

1. The Clouds – “Jenny Nowhere”
2. Mighty Mighty – “Throwaway (Throwaway Version)”

The Springfields - Tranquil

The Springfields “Tranquil” (CD single) (Seminal Twang TWANG 8) 1991

Track Listing:

1. Tranquil
2. Reach For The Stars
3. Million Tears