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I stumbled on these guys because I like the Alabama Shakes and they popped up as related, which makes sense since they’re also an Alabama retro-soul band. Yeah, I didn’t know “retro soul” was a genre or even a thing until I started reading up on the band after listening to the album all the way through three or four times. Not their first album and they’ve been on Jimmy Kimmel and other late night shows, so we’re not breaking new ground here, but they’re new to me and this album is from this year, so here we go. (nearly-format-free review, as always)
Lush, at times soaring, at times meandering, full instrumentals and vocals that fit someplace between a grunge growl and a low baritone R&B anguished plead, without quite going all the way to either end. Have to admit I don’t understand the lyrics – I mean, I understand the words and can hear them clearly enough, I just have no idea what they mean. I’ll credit Bob Dylan for this – sometimes he strung together images or ideas that seemed to make no sense, or jumped from one narrator to another, but for the most part the songs held together lyrically (that said, I heard “Lay Lady Lay” the other day over the grocery store speakers and its almost laughable how awful that song is). The fault’s mine, I get that, but the decision’s also mine whether I will invest in understanding the poetry and meaning, or just listen and enjoy.
So 1970s, but with a bass sound ripped from an 80s Phil Collins hit. I like it, but I could also easily forget it. Upon multiple listens, I kept coming back to that bass line and sound and I can’t tell if I like it because of the way he evokes the 80s or if it is completely out of place on this song. If they set the album’s lush, soaring, meandering tone with “Convex,” this track sets the throw-back mood, the “retro” in retro-soul.
This song crashes, thunders, and rolls but slowly and deliberately. Kind of forgettable, especially by the end of the album, but a good sound with plenty of the musical styles meanderings of the rest of the tracks. I guess these guys want to move beyond being labeled retro-soul, and this song certainly helps that. Ok, and I will say the “I can’t let you go” repeated again and again maybe sums up the album’s whole miss-you-longing-sadness vibe.
Warning: Some tracks consist of mood music behind recordings of the singer’s grandfather, who passed away. The band’s site gives the whole, compelling story. I listened enough times to just tune those tracks on when they came on, but they are weirdly jarring at first. And after I read the back-story, I listened again, which helps pull together the emotions and meanings in the lyrics.
Maybe the best track on the album: polished, smooth, grabs you, holds you, moves you. Vocals perfectly balanced with the band with the whole soul sound. It is just a great driving groove that will have you singing, “and I love you, baby” – but, let’s be honest, there is some heavy disco in here. And disco’s popularity made sense in the early 70s, so when a band executes well on that funky disco sound, everything works. So, yeah, it works, but you will have a little Bee Gees in the back of your mind.
Weird experimental instrumentals interspersed with some good grooving, solid lines and a catchy chorus. But at the same time so disjointed and weird. I get the highly personal nature of this album, but sometimes I wanted to hear one idea or groove last throughout the entire track.
A great groove, good vocals, and an arrangement and instrumentals that all over the place. “Concave” has a good build-up to some fun yelling/growling/howling vocals towards the end. A standout track, no doubt. If you’re uncertain whether to give these guys your time, listen to the first minute of this song. Simply great. And to my ear, the instrumentals come together best on this song, especially in the last 90 seconds when they get that vibe-groove going with some raw vocals wandering around on top. Yeah, the more I listened to this album, the more I liked this song most. And the more I wrote about this album, the more I used the word “groove.”
Will definitely give them credit for this – the album hangs together really well, actually should be listened to front to finish, not skipping all around. The third track has a line towards the end of it that gets repeated as the title to the last song. A well-crafted album, a very complete album, even if they lost me at times.
Look, I will admit to knowing I am not remotely qualified to judge a retro-soul album, just because I like a couple Alabama Shakes songs and the most-played record in my house is Marvin Gaye. But bringing absolutely no bias and notions into listening to this, just decades of listening to lots of music – and playing it on repeat all day – I know this much: I’d love to see these guys live and I’ll keep listening to large parts of this album, even if I don’t put them in heavy rotation. This isn’t an easy-listening album. And the singer’s voice? Distinct, soulful, at times fantastic. But never a happy moment, never an easy moment. Lush, soaring, meandering? Yes. Easy? No.