Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Review: The John Steel Singers - In Colour EP

The John Steel Singers are doing some pretty big things these days - I can't imagine them fitting into Ric's anymore. After their debut EP (which was re-released with some extra tracks as The Beagle And The Dove) and some significant tours with bands like The Polyphonic Spree and The Grates, they've released a new EP in the form of The John Steel Singers: In Colour.

The EP can be fairly evenly split into two conceptual halves - the end of the record features two indie-country/pop songs that could have easily fit on The Beagle And The Dove, while the first half of the EP sees the band exploring a more 'spacey' sound than their previous release (and as such contains the more successful offerings in my opinion). In Colour opens with its best cut, the repetitively psychedelic 'Rainbow Kraut'. Built mostly around a repeating fuzz-bass riff it's one of the more interestingly structured songs that band have written, and certainly the most aggressive sounding (probably most akin to 'Smashing The Speed Of Sound' from the previous EP). The repetitiveness of the song's central riff seems to stretch it out for much longer than its 4minute running time, which is probably a good thing. Below is the equally psychedelic (and fairly cool) video clip for the song.

Track two features one of the bands oldest numbers, 'Luxembourg'. The song continues the moody feel of 'Rainbow Kraut', having traded some of the bounce and energy of its original live version for space and atmosphere, becoming the dreamiest song in the bands ouvre (personally I prefer the earlier, more dynamic live version, but this particular recording makes it somewhat more unique and probably fits more with the sound of In Colour). I do like the way that they've slightly dirtied up the end of the songs with some ever-so-dissonant guitars.

Returning to the slightly countrified 60's pop found on The Beagle And The Dove, 'Mother' (as with 'Luxembourg') is another song that the band have been playing for a while now. This song features incongruously poppy verses (with their pseudo-murder-ballad lyrics) against a bridge riff ripped from The Flaming Lip's 'Be My Head' - I should also note the really cool little distorted guitar part in the chorus. The recording makes it sound kind of like a My Morning Jacket song, such is the liberal use of reverb over the whole track. It kind of robs the track of some of its impact - those big riffs in the middle of each verse don't quite have the impact that they once did. Still, the requisite string-and-horn filled epic outro is successful.

'Harlequin Maid' is kind of a strange one - on paper it should be a killer song, it contains all of the ingredients for a great pop number: a clever melody, colourful harmonies, a good bouncy rhythm. Despite that it just fails to engage somehow - as a friend put it, the song is great while you're listening to it but once it's done it can be difficult to remember how it went. Perhaps it's a matter of the song being too clever and polished for its own good? Again, the reverberant recording seems to rob the song of some of its power - it's so light and airy that there's nothing left to really grab a hold of. There is a pretty killer guitar riff in the chorus though, the chamber-pop middle-section is quite fantastic (and the one example of the music really benefiting from the spacious production), and the outro reminds me of Blur (in a good way), so perhaps it's just more of a grower than the others.

'Rainbow Kraut' is definitely one of the most accomplished numbers in the JSS songbook, but personally I don't find the rest of In Colour to be quite as strong (which isn't necessarily to say that the other tracks are weak by any means). I would LOVE to see the band go in and record a fairly live sounding album next, forgoing some of the bells & whistles and extra polish that they've had on their two releases so far (two if you count the initial self-titled EP and The Beagle And The Dove as one release). They have 6 members on multiple guitars, multiple keys, horns, 3 singers, mandolin... they're certainly not lacking for instrumentation, so pretty much anything they put down is going to sound pretty massive and lush. I'd like to see them to take a 'less is more' approach every now and then, so that those really big, orchestrated moments have a chance to seem as huge as they should. Well, that's my preference.

No comments: