A band by the name of Stereo Soul Future contacted me (hi, Stereos!) and asked if I’d be interested in having a listen to their third album, Ghost In The Night. Although I don’t gamble, my immediate response was: “You bet!”
Always eager to hear something I haven’t heard before, I listened to the album. I was going to comment on only a couple of tracks, but I got carried away and commented on every track. So it looks like this has become a full-blown album review, which is weird because I’m hopeless at reviewing albums.
By the way, before I go on I want to mention something about the band I mistook. When they contacted me, they said they Boston-based. I realise now, after listening to the album, that they didn’t mean they based their music on Boston (the band) – instead, they’re a band based in Boston (the city).
Oh, one more thing before I get to the music. I saw this photo of the band on their website:
It looks to me like they were invited to a fancy-dress party and decided to go as The Beatles.
Wait a minute – I think there is a photo of The Beatles that looks a bit like… hang on…
Yep. Found it:
Ah. So it was deliberate. Okey dokey.
Now to the music (i.e., what you actually come here for). Here we go…
Track 1: “If I…”
Nice strings. And they sound like real strings, too. Yum. The swooning strings in various parts of the song reminded me of another band. For a while I couldn’t quite figure out what that other band was until I realised it was Field Music. They use strings in a similar way – close harmonies, and occasional swooping. (Or to use the proper term, glissando.) With this song, the drummer sure liked his crash cymbal in each chorus. (Psh, Psh in the same place in every chorus.)
Track 2: “Are You Free?”
Nup. This one didn’t do anything for me. It was all suitably soulful (jazzy guitar chords, pleading vocals) and well played, but for me it was a little too tame. (Not Steely Dan enough.)
Track 3: “Sunday Morning”
A nice familiar chord progression (D major, A major, B minor, F sharp minor, G major, A major, D major) in a nice song. It’s nice, in a low-key country-rock way. I much preferred it to the previous, jazz-ish song. I liked the unexpected G minor at 1:29. Very nice. Nitpicking time: I wouldn’t have minded the singin’ guy doing a re-take from 0:52-0:54 in the line “shadow of a former glory”. The first half of the line (“shadow of a”) is uncomfortably out of key, but the second half (“former glory”) rights itself. And while I’m picking the nits out of the vocals in the song (sorry about this, singin’ guy), at 1:19 when he sings “God is laughin’ at you…” the “God is” sounds insecure. Having typed all of that, I do want to point that the singin’ guy is a much better singer than I am. I am a dreadful singer. I thought the pizzicato strings in the last verse (from 1:59) were pointless (i.e., I couldn’t see the point in having them there). I thought that maybe they were there to reinforce the lyrics by signify rain or something, but the lyrics in this section had nothing to with rain (although there was mention of grass, and grass needs to be watered. Maybe that was the link? But if that grass is artifical lawn, that blows my theory right out of the water. Hmm: Water. Rain. I think I should stop typing this sentence.) And a little more nitpicking about the vocals: For me, the harmony singing in the last verse was dodgy. Also – and this is incredibly minor – the harmonising of “crawl in” (at 1:36) sounded weird to me. One last thing before I get everyone in the band hating me: the chap singing the harmony vocal from 2:46 to the end of the song sounded as if his notes were possibly a little too high for him to sing – it sounded to me like he was straining for the notes. It may be why his background vocals are quieter than I’d have imagined. (Those background vocals definitely are in the background.)
Track 3: “Sinking Stone”
As this one was moving along I thought it was doing what it was doing, musically speaking, very well. Because the singer was singing in a high, light voice, it gave the vocals a yearning quality (maybe the word is “keening”), and I thought that was eminently suited to the music… until the bit with the “Be My Baby” drum beat (starting from 1:04). It’s here that the vocals fall apart. Where they were yearning/keening/searching/whatever-you-call-it in the verse, here they sound weirdly off.
Disclaimer: At this point of the proceedings, I want to stress that everything above is only my impression of what I’m hearing. For all I know, everything I’ve heard so far is meant to be the way it is on the recording, including everything in the vocal department. Okey dokey, back to the listening…
Track 3: “Sinking Stone” (continued)
I think that in the “Be My Baby” drum beat bit the lads were going for a dreamy vibe. That section of the song certainly felt sligtly dreamy to me, but the vocal wobbliness kept pulling me out of the dreaminess. However, I do want to compliment whoever decided to put that electric 12-string guitar in the song (starting at 1:28) for the solo. Great choice of instrument. Now, this is odd: the second time they play the “Be My Baby” drum beat bit, the vocals are exactly as they should be, and how they should have been the first time. Well, that’s what I reckon anyway. As I’ve said about other artists’ recordings, they’re the ones who made those records, not me. I didn’t make the artistic decisions that resulted in what you hear, not me. So I do have to remind myself some times (like now) that I probably need to, as Australians like to say, “pull my head in” and stop doing the “If I produced this record” thing. But all the vocals in that second “Be My Baby” bit sounded wonderfully right to me. And the electric 12-string guitar came back for another solo. Yay! Right, next song…
Track 4: “The Freeze”
Yep. Like this. Love those hand claps. (Even though they’re too quiet. Oops – I’m going into “If I Was Producer” mode again.)
Track 5: “Unmake The Oddity”
And back to the low-key country-rock. Nice cello in the left channel. This was all very pleasant, and I think the only thing about this song I objected to was its title. “Unmake The Oddity”? Huh? I know he’s singing about being an oddity, but singing about how he wants to “unmake” himself is linguistically awkward. (Well, for me anyway.)
Track 6: “Whisperers”
When this started I thought of one word: “moody”. But once the band started I thought “Bloc Party”. This song is one of those chk-chk-chk-chk songs that are currently popular, with guitars (almost always Telecasters) playing single-note parts, and drums playing double-time on hi-hats. A lot of people call the music “alternative” but that doesn’t say much. (Most rock music nowadays likes to call itself “alternative”, probably to gain “street cred” with The Young People of Today.) Other people have called it “post-punk” and I’d say that’s closer to the mark. The music sounds to me like it comes from the British minimalist rock movement in the 80’s (think Joy Division). For me, the current kings of this minimalist-guitar-rock movement is Bloc Party. They’re the only band playing chk-chk-chk-chk Telecaster music I like. I think I need to get back to talking about Stereo Soul Future. (Note to self: You do, Peter – because this is a post about them. Focus, Peter, focus.) This song – by Stereo Soul Future and no-one else – does get a bit rockier in places, and has a bit of variety. Overall, I enjoyed it.
Track 7: “Watching Circles”
I liked this. It’s straight from an 60’s American garage to you. Anyone who likes garage rock will like this.
Track 8: “Killer Klown”
Unfortunately, the title of this song made me think of that ‘scary-clown’ band. Despite that unhelpful association, I enjoyed this song. The beat and instrumentation reminded me of “Living A Lie” by The dB’s.
Track 9: “Psychics”
Stereo Soul Future describes their music being “roughly in the vein of Wilco, Spoon, and the Super Furry Animals“. I think I’ve heard Super Furry Animals, but I don’t remember their music. (It’s entirely possible that I actually haven’t heard their music at all. Who knows?) I definitely have heard Spoon, and do remember what they sound like. I listened to them for a while to find out why critics loved them so much. After a few listens to their most acclaimed albums (which, apparently, is all of them), I realised that their music did very little for me. Their instrumentation was too sparse for my liking, and I thought they took themselves and their music way too seriously. I don’t listen to Wilco (I did watch a documentary about them once, but don’t remember the music), so maybe this song is Stereo Soul Future being Wilco-esque.
Track 10: “Faith In Me”
I didn’t mind this. Didn’t love it, but I didn’t loathe it. This one reminds me of Spoon. Maybe this is their Spoon song. Actually, the more this song went on, the more I enjoyed it and the less I thought about Spoon. I ended up mildly enjoying it.
Track 11: “I Need Something To Lose”
Oh-oh. One voice, one piano… that spells “sensitive ballad” to me. But at 1:22 the rest of the band comes in. Phew. I’m glad the album didn’t end with a sensitive ballad. The cello from earlier in the album came back for this song. (In the right channel this time.) Excellent. I’m mighty glad it came back. (The cello is my favourite instrument.) I’m afraid that I’m about to get nitpicky again, but it’s not about the vocals. It’s about the guitar solo (from 2:34 to 3:29). I think the guitar solo is, er, um – how can I put this diplomatically? I think it’s not very good. And to me, exacerbating its not-very-good-ness is that it sounds to me like it’s either a compound solo (i.e., various takes put together to make one solo) or it’s two guitars “duelling” (I’m thinking that’s a possibility because the guitar’s tone alternates during the solo). I really have to apologise for this, because it’s an unkind joke, but I feel the need to say it: When this song had finished and I looked up at the song title, I saw “I Need Something To Lose”. My immediate response was: “Yeah – the guitar solo.” I am truly sorry about that.
I’m very keen to end this post on a positive note. (Being an incurable optimist I always look for the best in anything – despite what you may have read above.)
I’ll say that overall I listened to album and enjoyed it. Regardless of a little niggling here and there, I did enjoy it. (Note to self: A “little“?? “Here and there“??? It looks like you were moaning throughout the whole post, you fool.)
But me hearing it and you hearing it are two different things. I heartily recommend you completely ignore my (occasionally uncharitable) comments and listen to it for yourself. After all: you have your ears, and you’ll hear what you hear – not what I hear.
Stereo Soul Future official website
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