Something that all music aficionados born after 1970 wish they could do is travel back in time to an age when music was grungy, raunchy (less in a Miley way), and just friction’ awesome. I dare anyone reading this to turn down an all-expenses-paid vacation back to the days of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and all those other fun-time-having, hotel-room-destroying, drug-hopping, fuzzbox-guitar-loving bands.
While many bands have channeled this retro aesthetic (most successfully Saskatoon-natives The Sheepdogs, and Aussie-based Wolfmother), not many bands actually manage to capture the essence of the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s actually quite easy to emulate the awesome ghost of rock concerts past: let your hair grow out, slap on a few bandannas and beads (Johnny Depp style), jam together distorted vocals, driving drums, grungy guitars, and badass basses.
What’s even easier, however, is to fail utterly at actually being a retro band. The physical feel of the age of classic rock is something that doesn’t come pre-packaged with Jimmy Page hair, or a second hand Telecaster. Despite this, the Soft White Sixties manage to absolutely ace the vintage, retro feel. Not only do they sound like they’ve been ripped out of the ‘60s, but their whole vibe sounds authentic enough to convince listeners that they’ve just travelled forward through time to 2012 in some TARDIS-esque device (yeah, I’m a nerd, so what?). With the upcoming release of their sophomore album Get Right (coming out on June 14 of this year), this is a great opportunity to take a look back at the self-titled album that kicked off their career.
‘Queen of the Press Club’ might just be the best track on this album (and this on a five-track album with only one meh track). The first thing that strikes you on first hearing this track is that it could almost pass for something off a Wolfmother album. Grungy, moody, driving bass twang permeates the whole track, giving it a sense of menacing purpose. Lead singer Octavio Genera’s distorted vocals have just the perfect crunchy-to-smooth ratio, and it really sells the whole back-to-the-60s feel of the track. Some parts of the vocals almost eerily reminded me of Jack White’s Dead Weather days, or his White Stripes days, or his Raconteurs days, or . . . well, it just reminds me of White in general. I love this track with all my heart because it perfectly embodies that rock ‘n roll feel that many other copycat bands simply ignore. Is it the lyrics? Is it the fuzz-laden instrumentation? Or is it some other, intangible element that harkens back to the classic rock era? I couldn’t really tell you, but what I can say is that it works!
‘I Am’, the third track on this album takes an almost Beatles-ian approach, proving that the San Francisco natives can do more than just Zeppelin their way through an album. The gliding, arpeggiated guitar hook that the track is based on almost reminds me of the Beatles’ ‘Get Back’, without sounding derivative. All in all, the track serves as a great counterpoint to the heavier tracks like ‘Queen of the Press Club’ and ‘Live in the Evening’.
‘Better Way’ is a somewhat introspective track, that trades snarl and roar, for a more pensive mood (well, as pensive as a rock song can get). You get a sense of reflection that most throwback acts seem to discard in favour of Robert Plant-like vocal bravado. This track reminds me a bit of the Steve Miller Band. Think Miller’s ‘The Joker’, but with a more serious and subdued feel. Around the four-minute-and-five-seconds mark, the contemplative tension finally explodes outwards in a controlled, and highly effective restatement of line “There’s gotta be a better way”. It’s as if the all the conflicting feelings on this track finally boil over into a somewhat desperate, yet hopeful outburst.
‘Live in the Evening’ rounds off this album, and it does ONE HELL OF A JOB! It’s so good it actually managed to make me break my solemn vow of never writing anything all in capitals. We’ve rounded off the album more or less back where we started, in the same classic rock anthem territory that ‘Queen of the Press Club’ established at the beginning of the album. The track is pure, unabashed rock joy, with the band busting out their whole range of tricks, from their ever-present classic rock persona, to cheeky tambourines and a backing organ. ‘Evening‘ reminds the listener of everything that was great about the music scene during the ‘60s and ‘70s. It sounds like a sort of celebration of the Woodstock generation’s zeitgeist. There’s also a definite sense that this is the end of the album, and you get the feeling that the Soft Sixties are teasing their listeners with that classic sitcom phrase: to be continued . . . “I hope to see you soon / on a moonlight night” Genera sings, almost as though inviting the listener to keep their ear open for more music still to come.
The only downside to this album is, paradoxically, the very first track, ‘When This All Started’. It sounds very slightly like a generic rock track (despite being a kickass song). This is really just a preference of mine, but despite the fact that it works spectacularly as an opener, I was expecting something a little more identifiable. I can’t really rag on this track too much, though; it’s great. I just find it lacking . . . something. Maybe I’m just weird.
Another thing that sort of bothered me is that the album is too short. I know it was meant to sort of “test the waters”, but I would have liked it to be at least another five tracks longer. Just when I was getting into the vibe of the songs, it’s over. It’s almost as frustrating as a J.J. Abrams teaser trailer.
The Verdict – 9.5 (BLOODY AWESOME)
– The Soft White Sixties is easily one of the best retro bands out there.
– Hits the vintage / classic rock sound and ethos perfectly.
– Almost no bad tracks on the whole album . . . you know what? Screw that. No bad tracks on the album.
– The album sounds very polished and balanced for a debut album
– Despite being a vintage act, the band’s sound is identifiable, and very much their own.
– ‘When This All Started’ sounds a little generic (to me, at least).
– It’s kinda short (just like this sentence).