Amelia Fletcher, her brother Mathew, and guitarist Peter Momtchiloff formed the core of Talulah Gosh and later Heavenly, figureheads of the self-effacing British indie-pop scene that reclaimed "twee" as a compliment. Both bands were smarter than most of their imitators (Amelia's also an economist with an Oxford PhD), but after Mathew's suicide in 1996, Heavenly couldn't go on. The remaining four members--Fletcher, Momtchiloff, bassist Rob Pursey, and keyboardist and backup singer Cathy Rogers--have started fresh with a new name, a new songbook, and new drummer John Stanley. Rogers is still on full-time "ba ba ba" duty, but Marine Research is slinkier and less outgoing than Heavenly, more concerned with textures and tones and a little less focused on hooks; its forthcoming debut, Sounds From the Gulf Stream (K), is so unpretentious it practically slouches. Most of the tunes are about lives that have fallen short of fairy-tale endings, but little flashes of tunefulness and bitter wit break up the lyrics' overcast mood: "I sometimes try to imitate / Those women who exfoliate," Amelia chirps on "Glamour Gap." Gulf Stream's songs perk up considerably onstage, where Fletcher and Rogers act like they're only dressed up as pop stars for a party; sometimes they dissolve into giggles between tunes, as though they're embarrassed by the absurdity of playing for an audience. (And it is funny, really, to sing "la" in two-part harmony 35 straight times to start a song.) But then the music kicks back in, and the singers' nervous smiles turn blissful--like they're pleasantly surprised by how sweet and strong the band sounds. With any luck, they'll do their cover of Built to Spill's "Sick and Wrong." Tuesday, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. DOUGLAS WOLK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Alison Wonderland.