The John Steel Singers: Tangalooma
I would like to take you to the other side of the Atlantic. Allow me the great pleasure of introducing to you The John Steel Singers from the distant, mythical shores of Australia, and their first full length studio release, Tangalooma.
To sum up the band or even the album in a clean 500 words would be difficult. Really, on first listening I thought the album was a bit like the first week of a new and totally unexpected romance. The tracks were adorable, poppy but not sickening, upbeat but far from annoying. As with every unknown group I pressed play with no small amount of suspicion, but with each successive song I could only glory over how for the longest time this was what I’d been looking for without even knowing it. Tangalooma is kooky, I’m kooky. Tangalooma is well composed but seemingly care-free. I’m a pretty cool guy. Tangalooma exalts in intricate details most people over look. Tangalooma: maybe we’re soul-mates!
Replete with Spanish horn sections, beautiful melodic string arrangements, and odd but elaborately structured percussion work the album defies standard classification, which of course makes it pop-music in the purest sense. Much like the Beatles, JSS can be rocking without actually rocking, and a bit like old pre-Moon and Antarctica Modest Mouse any given track’s first three verses can exist on a completely different plane from the way the song finishes. I’m hesitant to draw too many parallels between JSS and established bands, but a listen reveals to each individual a litany of possible influences or at least thematic similarities spanning the last 50 years of radio domination. I had my friend Cory Peterson give it a go while making a list of what he heard as influences. Combined we had thirty different groups in various genres dating back to the mid-sixties. But the sound is definitely not the kind of sentimental throw back we have seen from the revivalist camps. What a few years ago the Libertines or Strokes were attempting or a more modern example could be the Black Keys or Vampire Weekend. There’s a definite feel of a mash-up sound, but it rests far from anything that could be described as dated.
And I haven’t even touched on the lyrics yet. My personal favorite would have to be the unapologetically positive spin placed on a love song called “Mashochist.” Yeah, there’s a mother load of irony buried somewhere in the song’s message. I just can’t figure it out yet, which keeps me returning to it time and again. As well, track two, “Overpass,” seems to be a whimsical ode to children throwing bricks off exactly that. The innocent spin on the pure randomness of catastrophe sends a sense of glee through me I haven’t experienced since the golden days of my own youth. And let’s not forget the light-hearted nature of song titles like “You’re Favorite Perversion,” or “You Got Nothing to be Proud About.” Without the benefit of a listen through, both imply a nature reminiscent to deep cuts on any Cure album. This is exactly what JSS wants you to think, because it couldn’t be further from the truth while the idea you’ve been seduced slowly dawns on you.
Alright, I’m done gushing, and the only real problem I can find with this album is timing. There is no reason why Tangalooma wouldn’t make the perfect summer soundtrack. And yes, I know what you’re thinking, ‘opposite seasons south of the equator,’ but whatever. JSS make me wish it were summer so I could play Tangalooma entirely too loudly out the windows of my ’89 Honda on the way to the beach. So I have to dock them for that, and I’ll take another 2/10th of a point for being so cool and obscure (Really, I couldn’t find much about them on the internet.) because now I’m going to sound like a snob when I gloat over them to my friends in bars.
MP3: The John Steel Singers “Cause of Self”
The John Steel Singers: Tangalooma