Much to my
disappointment relief, Cool Ghouls are not a fictional band created for a children’s Halloween special, despite their name. They’re a legit San Francisco-based band that plays old-school, mid-fi American rock that sounds retro, not at all like the spooky parody songs I imagined upon reading their name.The Cool Ghouls have just released their third LP, Animal Races, which doesn’t include a single haunted reference; it’s packed with rock ’n’ roll, country twang, visions of sunny California, and vintage nods that can’t be nailed down to just one decade. One track is called “Time Capsule,” though the title could have applied to the entire album.
To put a visual on the sound of this album, it would look like late ’60s hippies, smoking pot and discussing their big ideas in a San Francisco park while Google’s private commuter buses roll by. The Cool Ghouls sound like old souls; the album has a vintage rock ’n’ roll sound that draws heavily on the ’60s and ’70s. “Sundial” has some Donovan-like qualities, then mixes in ‘50s guitar riffs, drum rolls, and backing vocals. Many songs have Crosby, Stills, and Nash-esque harmonies, while “Never You Mind” bring in female back-up singers for an oh-so-’60s sound. Though “When You Were Gone” has a melancholy country touch to it, “(If I Can’t Be) The Man” stands out as a full-on country song. It’s not the only track to feature a pedal steel, but it’s the only one that sounds like the singer is putting on a southern accent and goes all-out vintage country. “Time Capsule” gets oh-so-close to a surf sound. Despite the time warp going on, the album doesn’t come off as gimmicky; the band is just creating new music in a style that was popular back in the day.
Three of the four Ghouls write the songs, so there is a different yet cohesive sound to each track. Themes range from “Sundial’s” bittersweet ode to remembering past loves, to rejecting materialism on “Material Love,” to “Brown Bag’s” ode to drinking in public. These are timeless themes for timeless songs; they don’t sound dated despite the many vintage elements. The title track has the familiar theme of watching humans run on the metaphorical hamster wheel to compete in the never-ending rat race, which can be applied to just about every generation. In this generation, we might assume they’re commenting on their hometown of San Francisco pricing out artists (and heck, everyone) while the major tech companies and their employees move in. Timeless theme with modern applications, just like the album. “Never You Mind” has less subtlety: it’s more upfront about San Francisco’s gentrification.
This is an album of slightly fuzzy sound that will appeal to everyone from my dad, whose musical tastes never really left the ‘70s, to anyone who needs a classic album for listening to outdoors with a summer shandy. Maybe the cover art will even inspire you to let your inner naked tennis player out and dance in the sun.