Arriving in 2020 straight from 1965 or so, “Sun Gun” pays nifty homage to a variety of classic British rockers from an era when sturdy melodies poured out of rock bands like sunshine in August, tinged by an awareness of the psychedelia on the near horizon. The Zombies, the Kinks, early Pink Floyd, they’re all in here, in the jangly guitars, the sweet spacey sing-along chorus, the swell of background harmonies, and the general sense that tea was involved along the way. If you’re not careful you’ll notice a soupçon of young-ish David Bowie in the air, or maybe Marc Bolan, and in any case the Arthurs make a nice case for grounding the entirety of glam rock, by all accounts arising in the early ’70s, in those earlier mid-’60s sounds.
The trick in all this is not to sound like a tribute band, and although it’s hard to point to any one thing they’re doing that shifts things into the 21st century, I am nevertheless getting a strong whiff of present-day creativity here. At which point I should note that the original version of this song on the album is more than nine minutes long, during which it definitely becomes its own sort of trip. (Here’s a link to the full version if you’re curious and have some extra time on your hands.) Personally I didn’t think the song quite justified its length; and yet, oddly, now that I’ve been living with the shorter version, I do have a sense that it could be longer. (Some people are never satisfied it seems.)
In any case, what really sells me on “Sun Gun,” in either length, is the brilliance of the classic-sounding chorus, which gathers an impressive amount of heft as the song progresses. This is partially due to restraint—we only hear the chorus three times in this edited version. The verse melody is different but with a similar rhythm and feel so it works to reinforce and familiarize the ear while at the same time allowing the chorus when it pops in to feel extra memorable.
The Arthur Brothers self-identify as an “artistic alliance” grounded in the work of brothers Matt and Danny Arthur and songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist J.C. Wright. They are based in London. “Sun Gun” is the final track on their debut album, Nine, which was released last month. You can listen to the album and buy it via Bandcamp.
Over repeated listens, I’m getting more and more of a Kinks vibe, but in the very best way—not a slavish homage but an intriguing contemporizing of the band’s mid-’60s drive, some elusive amalgam of horsepower and brainpower that gives, in my mind, the best rock’n’roll from any era its appeal and staying power.
Short and enticing, “Marguerite” chugs along in a semi-garage-y world of droning sound with the enticing addition of some time signature complication: the song’s 4/4 momentum is given knowing little tugs by some well-placed 6/4 measures. A little of this goes a long way to my ears, as it indicates first and foremost that someone is paying attention, that there is some vivid musical creativity at work. No offense to groove-oriented music (maybe) but personally I am less convinced of musical artistry via what are essentially decorations (i.e., interesting sounds layered on top of a beat); I am more impressed with a creative intelligence that can work at the structural level. I mean, there’s choosing a paint color or two and there’s architecture, right? Not everyone operates at the same depth and that’s completely fine. I’m just saying…well, what am I saying? I seem to have digressed.
Oh and then there’s the subject matter, which is offbeat and refreshing, as “Marguerite” turns out to be about the French writer Marguerite Yourcenar, the first woman elected to the Académie française. (In the U.S. Yourcenar is probably best known for the 1951 novel Mémoires d’Hadrien.) As I sit with this song over repeated listens, I’m getting more and more of a Kinks vibe, but in the very best way—not a slavish homage but an intriguing contemporizing of the band’s mid-’60s drive, some elusive amalgam of horsepower and brainpower that gives, in my mind, the best rock’n’roll from any era its appeal and staying power.
The Whales are a six-piece band from the UK formed in 2013, about which not a lot of information is readily discoverable (blame in part the generic name). “Marguerite” is available via an admirable project: the British label Fat Cat Records has an ongoing SoundCloud page where it makes available as free downloads the best demos it receives, acknowledging that they simply don’t have the resources to sign every band that sends in a good song. You can visit the Fat Cat demo page here. Thanks to the Powerpopulist blog for the head’s up on the song.
There is sweetness here, and pining, and a sense that it won’t end well because, well, nothing does in the long run.
And speaking of the Kinks (of whom we really can’t speak enough), here we are treated to two fleeting lyrical references to the great British band, reinforcing a lovely song with a (now that I think about it) distinctly Daviesian brand of conflicted nostalgia. Even without being able to make too much of the lyrics here (and I can’t), there is sweetness, and pining, and a sense that it won’t end well because, well, nothing does in the long run.
Effortlessly melodic, “Second Nature” is propelled by a rhythmic, gently plucked electric guitars emphasizing the “on” beats (one and three) versus rock’n’roll’s classic backbeat (two and four) orientation (cf.: “It’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it”). One clear lyrical feature here is the purposeful repetition of words and/or sounds in successive lines (e.g., “Sick to death/Sick in bed/Sic the dogs on us instead”), which may or may not be intended as a subtle augmentation of the title phrase but in any case adds to the song’s tender urgency. And I suggest you pay attention to the saxophone when it shows up (1:47, briefly; then, closing the song out from 2:31)—not just because you don’t hear a lot of saxophone in 2015 rock’n’roll but because there seems something inexplicably moving about hearing this instrument presented in such a straightforward way, something about the pure sound of it that captures the subtle heartache of the entire track. And throughout of course there’s the obvious contribution of Longo’s gentle, agile tenor, which lends memorable complexion to every upward sweep of melody.
Matt Longo is a gifted singer/songwriter, based in Queens, NY, whose work has been featured here twice previously, in 2011 and in 2013. He is performing with the name Thin Lear this time around, partially inspired by an absurd image from a dream he had one night. A six-song EP is due out later this fall; you’ll be able to buy it via Bandcamp, and can listen there in the meantime to his past recordings.
Lo-fi recording master Matt Adams takes his Blank Tapes project into a full-fledged recording studio for the first time. Goodness ensues.
Previously known for his home-recorded-onto-cassette output (and quite a lot of output it was), Matt Adams has taken his shape- (and location-)shifting lo-fi project The Blank Tapes into an actual recording studio, solidified it into a permanent band, and given us an impeccable helping of rock’n’roll goodness in the process.
Adams has always had a knack for songwriting; to my ears, it’s a pleasure to hear a song of his given the width and depth that lo-fi recording really can’t deliver. But it’s not like he’s turned into Beyoncé or anything—a fuzzy sense of the homemade and hand-crafted very much remains, and completely serves a song that pays homage to the garage-y side of classic ’60s rock while avoiding the feel of a hollow knock-off. Hints of the Zombies, the Kinks, CCR, and/or the Guess Who are sprinkled in and around “Coast to Coast,” which is additionally full of splendid touches of its own, both small and large—the minor-key wordless vocal introduction to the major-key song; the fleeting Spector beat in front of the chorus; and (my favorite) the extended bridge that offers not only an aural change of pace but unfolds into a very satisfying coda section (2:48). When the ear is taken on that effective of a side trip, hearts are usually won over.
Adams has spent musical time in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. The latest incarnation of the Blank Tapes is an L.A.-based trio featuring D.A. Humphrey on bass and Pearl Charles on drums. “Coast to Coast” is the first available song from the album Vacation, which is due out in May on Antenna Farm Recordings. You can download the song via the link above or from SoundCloud. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.