Return to Aberdeen (thing)

Aberdeen was an American twee pop band from Palm Desert, California, which existed from 1993 to 1995 and again from 2001 to 2005. Initially, the band consisted of Beth Arzy on vocals, guitar and bass, and John Girgus on guitar and the occasional lead vocal, along with a drum machine. Together with East River Pipe, they were the only American bands signed to the seminal British record label Sarah Records, through which they recorded and released two 7"/CD5 singles before the label's predetermined end in mid-1995, after which the band went on an extended hiatus. Afterwards, Beth formed the short-lived Casino Ashtrays.

As far as I know, the name of the band doesn't have anything to do with the cities in Scotland (nor its football club), Washington state or Maryland that go by the same name (or any other place called "Aberdeen"), or the university.

They reformed in 2001, now bolstered by a cadre of dedicated backing musicians (including a live drummer), and then released their first full-length album, Homesick and Happy to be Here, in 2002, on the American indie label Tremolo Arm Users Club, with distribution by Better Looking Records. The album was preceeded slightly by a single, the 7" "Sink or Float," about a month prior to the album's release. For an indie release, it did pretty well; the single's title track went on to appear on the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and although it didn't end up appearing on the American edition of the show's soundtrack (Radio Sunnydale), it appeared, perhaps appropriately, on the UK edition (given how much more successful indie pop is there, this isn't too surprising). New singles followed in 2003 ("The Boy Has Gone Away") and 2005 ("Florida"), this time coming only in CD format, breaking away from their indie 7" roots.

After the release of the last single, Aberdeen parted ways again. They put together a career retrospective CD entitled What Do I Wish For Now? (Singles & Extras 1994-2004), and released it on LTM Recordings in 2006. The band members drifted to other projects: Beth moved to the UK and concentrated on her role in Trembling Blue Stars (with whom she was a collaborator from 2000 until the band broke up in 2010), and John ended up in Languis.

The music of Aberdeen is a bit difficult to describe succinctly; while their earlier output on Sarah Records was fairly typical of the twee/indie scene of that era (late 80s to mid 90s), their latter-day output is whimsical, at times upbeat and at others eloquently morose. The music recalls the best-sounding bits of bands like the Field Mice (whose 1988 single "Emma's House" they expertly covered), Heavenly, and maybe a hint of Secret Shine (all label-mates on Sarah Records), though I'd say their most even comparison would be kind of a more playful, feminine analogue to Beth's other band, the male-fronted Trembling Blue Stars. I once read somewhere that those who enjoy Ocean Blue or The Sundays will immediately crush on this band upon hearing them, and I think that's pretty apt. And if you can't fathom developing a crush on certain music, well, then, there's no hope for you.

In 2015, it became public knowledge that the end of Aberdeen as a band was in fact acrimonious, and that in the run-up to the Sarah Records documentary film, "My Secret World", Aberdeen will not be participating but will instead have another band, The Legendary House Cats, play a cover set of Aberdeen material. Beth's new band, The Luxembourg Signal, has yet to release anything at the time of writing (May 2015).

I've become Facebook friends with John Girgus and have learned quite a bit about the early days of Aberdeen. He's a good guy, really into what he was doing musically, and never fails to answer questions or provide specifics about Aberdeen. In fact, he's just (late 2015) digitally released a compilation of the early music, entitled It Was The Rain: Lost Recordings 1993-1995. He's still friends with all the Sarah Records people he got to know, including Claire and Matt, the founders of Sarah Records. While I'm not quite sure what went on between them, John and Beth Arzy are no longer friends. In fact, she's been dating Bobby Wratten for several years!

Recently, John was musing about Aberdeen having opened for Heavenly when they toured America. Apparently Amelia Fletcher is a fan, but she was non-plussed when Aberdeen included a cover of Brighter's "Half-hearted". Cathy Rogers expressed similar sentiment about Brighter, their label mate on Sarah Records. I don't know how or why they came to dislike Brighter, and I probably never will, but this is a fun half-story from John.


On hiatus, 1995-2001


Aberdeen on Facebook
Aberdeen on TweeNet
Better Looking Records - Aberdeen
UTR - Aberdeen