As far as I know, there have been few bands who’ve managed to successfully channel the 1960s/1970s classic rock ethos as well as the Soft White Sixties. Many have tried, and many have failed, but the San Fran boys seem to have risen above simple aping and mimicry. Their debut full-length album Get Right, which was released on March 4, is proof enough that these guys are not “just long-haired Zeppies.” Their sound might be firmly rooted in rock history, but at the same time it manages to sound fresh and individual. You’re not going to confuse these guys with anything other than themselves.
The whole retro ethos is more of a foundation upon which The Sixties build their own unique sound. On their previous self-titled EP, the SW60s (hmm. . . catchy. . .) showed their retro lovin‘ chops. Their songs seemed ripped out of the good part of rock history, and were pretty awesome in their own right.
Get Right, however, finds the guys exploring their own sound, with amazing results.
Raz Mataz managed to get an advance copy of Get Right (‘cause we’re awesome like that), and I get the happy-dandy privilege of reviewing it (and more importantly, I get to blast it at full volume in my apartment, much to the fury of my neighbours and the exasperation of law enforcement).
Before I even get into the review let me just say that, if the past few weeks that I’ve spent with the record are anything to go by, this is one for the Best Album of 2014 category. Awright, I’ve geeked out enough for this to count as an intro. Let’s get to the crunchy, rocky goodness.
‘City Lights’ starts off the album, and already you can tell that this record ain’t yer typical “woo, look at all the nostalgia I can muster up” album. A rock n’ rollicking drum beat drives this track forward, with a distorted organ taking up the remaining slack. I’m a little reticent to qualify this track as danceable, but it does have a certain almost surf rock vibe about it – a feeling further enforced by the drumming pattern, and the small, short bursts of fuzzy, reverb-ish guitar licks that pop up here and there – that will definitely get your tootsies tappin’. In a way, it almost reminds me of the new-old-rock sound the Black Keys have adopted as their go-to. Don’t get me wrong, though; you won’t confuse this track with anything on El Camino. It’s still firmly rooted in the SW60s’ signature, groovy sound (and yes, that was an Evil Dead reference). “I’m having a good time,” sings frontman Octavio Genera, and if this track is anything to go by, that’s a sentiment we’ll all be sharing throughout the rest of the album.
‘Up To The Light’ starts off with a muted, almost march-like guitar riff, over which Genera’s voice comes in, with almost startling ease and grace. We might not even be out of winter’s icy clutches, but I can already taste the summer on this track. The whole thing has a sort of sunkissed freshness about it, that’s light (see what I did there?), with an overall feel-good vibe about it that screams canicular warmth.
‘Rubber Band’. Well, hello there new sound. This sure as shootin’ isn’t something I’d have ever expected from the Sixties, and I love it. I love the wide open, reverb-happy feel of the track. I love the ever-so-slight, almost radio-ish distortion that Genera’s voice gets here and there, and I absolutely love the chorus sections that almost beg the listener to sing along. Most of all, however, I’m delighted by the fact that the SW60s don’t seem to be afraid to inject different sounds into their albums. They eschew the through-and-through, old school rock route than many other retro bands take, in favour of making a truly entertaining listening experience. For some, weird reason, a few bits of this track remind me of the Steve Miller Band, with the same, almost casual approach to songwriting. I especially love the way the track practically blossoms around the two-minute-and-twenty-five-seconds mark. This is professional album pacing at its best.
‘Rollaway’ – aaand here’s another new sound. Seriously, guys, you’re spoiling us. ‘Rollaway’ sees a more introspective side of the band come through, to great effect. The piano, clean guitar, and background drum textures are pared back just enough to let Genera’s voice really shine through on this one. Lyrics like “The tears begin to spill / As I signaled for the bill”, and “I don’t want to fight”, coupled with the track’s slow, almost regretful pace, lend a powerful sense of nostalgia to the song, that we haven’t really seen from the band on their previous album (and which comes almost as a sonic revelation).
It’s a track you could almost slow dance to. The fact that this track comes roughly midway through the album further proves the fact that these guys really know how to balance their album’s tone and pacing.
‘Treat Me’ reminds me of the Electric Light Orchestra a bit. The same, optimistic, open-sky chorus leaden feel that many ELO songs have, can be found on this track. It’s almost like the more hopeful counterpart to ‘Rollaway’. It’s as if the emotional tension of the previous track just evaporated, leaving a sort of optimist’s anthem in its place. Lyrics like “Don’t treat me like I can’t see / What you’re doing” are more of a friendly chiding, than an outright warning, giving the song a general “it’s all gonna be okay” feel. Around the four-minute mark, the song goes from great to instant favourite with a finale that will make you smile like an idiot (or maybe that’s just me).
‘Tilt A Whirl’ is the last track on an album that’s just chock-full of memorable tunes, and wonderful surprises. The general vibe on this track is of finality, something that is supplemented by reverbed, vaguely Carlos Santana-ish guitar riffs, and a new softness, courtesy of Genera’s versatile vocal talents. A pacing rock organ ostinato in the background lends the whole track a sense of movement, and also gives it a sort of sense of resolution (which is somewhat paradoxical, since it stays mostly in the sonic background). It’s the perfect song to round off the prefect album.
A few people who’ve read my reviews complain that I only give good reviews. “Where are the 5.0s and the 2.0s?” they ask. Well, my inquisitive friends, the answer to why there’s no bad reviews is simple:
1 – I don’t like album bashing, and
2 – My editor is nice enough to never force me to review crappy albums.
Oh, you thought I’d have something to complain about on this album? Well, you guys are S-O-L on the complaints front. This album is rock solid, and I’m not about to nitpick about things that ain’t there to nitpick about.
Here, have a picture of a bunch of kittens, to help you get over the pain of finding a perfect album. I’m sure you’re all heartbroken.
The Verdict – 10.0 (Masterpiece)
– Great album pacing
– Great variation of sounds keeps things interesting to the end
– The album never goes overboard with its retro aesthetic
– Beautiful instrumentation and carefully constructed sonic imagery
– The perfect album for summer 2014
Get Right is out now. Get it on iTunes, and listen to it until either your headphones, or your ears wear out (whichever comes first).
And for more on the Soft White Sixties, visit thesoftwhitesixties.com.