I've been waiting to review this for a while now and giving nothing away to friends other than saying it's one to watch out for was becoming more difficult the more I played it. So with less customary waffle than I'm used to, let's get straight on with it.
Dana Zeera and Oliver Drake, together with the help of some friends, have crafted an original, ambitious and accomplished debut album. It's only 40 minutes from start to finish yet possesses a character of soundtrack scale, down to the pair's ability to create a vivid instrumental soundscape. Each piece of imagery is exquisitely assembled throughout the songs where the eerie environment conjured up is a lawless desert, climatically and morally arid, with a dextrously heightened sense of foreboding in parts. This helps bring to life the character play within the songs which I'm starting to think has more in common with Kate Bush than more contemporary artists. Initially drawing comparisons - vocally at least - with Jefferson Airplane, the more I listened to tracks like "Marie and the Dusty Lands" and "Arcadian Moon" the more I thought of her. The simple structure and the accompanying piano of the former and the vocal qualities of the latter confirmed this for me and also won me over to Straylings' sound. The idea of an untarnished harmony with nature in "Arcadian Moon" only added to the idea that this song is stronger for its simplicity.
The band pool further musical inspiration and demonstrate influences from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Love, Neil Young and PJ Harvey and these strands run through the album here and there without it once lacking originality in its bite. Whether knowingly or not, I could hear the sound of Tindersticks and Gallon Drunk at times too, which is no bad thing. At their best both capture the empty darkness of the soul and wrap it in beautiful music which is exactly what Straylings perfect here. For me though, the striking quality of this album and the thing that impresses most is the band's ability to blend sounds from these diverse musical vistas and look beyond them to create something utterly original.
"Carvers Kicks" opens the album with raucous guitars and sultry vocals - imagine Dick Dale backing Polly Harvey and you're halfway there. "Sleep Shakes" shifts along like a rattlesnake through the sand, with a mariachi pulsing twang to the guitars and more beautiful vocals. For a smoke-soaked jazz vibe "The Spoils" has the rolling rhythms of brush snares and a perfect piano accompaniment. "Bitter Face" has the musical combined effect of a raging inferno, 70s Russ Meyer films and bandits - or I'm very strange - both possible. There's also a hazy druginess in places too; a narcotic hypnosis which had me hooked on "Bitter Face" and elsewhere. "Kings of the Mire" manages to sounds older than it is and yet still has the freshness of the other tracks.
"Marie and the Dusty Lands" stands out as one of the more obviously beautiful melodies on the album and the simplicity of the arrangement opens up the rawness of Dana's vocals, further enhanced by the mic which almost distorts on the top notes adding an edge no doubt intended. Beauty is elsewhere though and not exclusively on the vocals. "The Saguaro", taking its name from the big cactus - you know like the ones in cartoons - has a dark but enticing bass with some excellent guitar work over the top adding another dimension to the band's sound. Later in the album the brushed drums return with a stagecoach momentum on "The Unravelling of Mr Ed" and after a brisk and catchy fade-in, back comes the sleaziness of those vocals and that microphone...
There are more tracks on the album but I'll leave them for you to find yourself - I don't want to blow all the surprises for you now. I know very little about Straylings other than the info sent through by their PR and what's on their Facebook page but that's what made listening to the album all the more fun. Until the album arrived I had no idea I'd be falling for something that draws on the sounds of so many of my favourite artists, then twists them into a new shape and throws it down with such cool attitude. This is raunchy, dirty, tough, original and great. How many albums have you heard this year that you've said that about? Exactly!