One of the things I seem to hear most when I'm shooting the breeze with friends about all things musical is that "there isn't any good new music coming out today" and that "all the best music has already been made". I suppose that people have been saying things like that for decades now; stuffy old BBC commentators wrote off rock n roll and the music of the Beatles et al as "a flash in the pan" because they they didn't sing like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Likewise, not too long ago ace record producer Quincy Jones declared that the Fab Four were "the worst musicians in the world" because they didn't play like Quincy's jazz hero's of yester-year. Maybe the past has always been lionised and the present has usually been derided, especially with music. Way back in 1975 when The Who put out their introspective 'Who By Numbers' album Pete Townshend noted that "the past is the hero and the present a queen" on the bitter and twisted 'They're All In Love' highlighting, even then, that we often do look back with our rose tinted glasses on full magnification.
So, where does all this pontificating fit in with this terrific new album from a young four piece British band? Well, what we have here is a record that certainly isn't afraid to wear it's older influences predominantly on its melodic sleeve but then, thankfully, builds on that legacy and adds new layers of quality songs and newer sounds. Don't let the fact there is a huge dollop of the past contained within these ten fine songs put you off because what happens here is that those influences, centred around the likes of Neil Young, Grateful Dead, Steely Dan and a dab of classic 10cc, are allowed to coalesce around some modern sounds, most notably the synthesiser.
“It’s the Blueprint sound…” bassist Huw Webb explains, by way of introduction. “Keyboards came in naturally with the new songs.” “It’s opened up what we can do,” adds drummer Mel Rigby. “The spaces in songs have changed and Rhys’ guitar is more percussive.” “We’re well into keyboard territory,” Elliot Hayward (guitar) affirms, smiling as he remembers the ham-slicing incident that meant his string finger was out of action for a while. “I hurt my hand and couldn’t play guitar, and we’ve discovered more interesting chords. We always listen to Stevie Wonder, who does brass, strings and basically everything on a synthesiser, that became a big part of the album.”
The album opens with the jangling guitars of the title track 'Tourist' which has a touch of the much loved and lost Go-Betweens with sharp musicianship, wonderful melodies and a gorgeous breathy vocal that sets the scene for the rest of an album, that's built on melody, great dreamy vocals and obscure lyricism. 'Real As These' follows with a choppy rhythmic guitar figure and and a popping synth creating a woozy summer feeling. The song is based on an Isaac Asimov short story called 'Dreaming Is A Private Thing'. The band explain, "In the story, the next generation of mass consumer entertainment is a dream sequence called a Dreamie. The Dreamie is a totally immersive experience in which the user can touch, feel, taste, smell and affect one’s manufactured surroundings. The song is a sales pitch for a leading Dreamie manufacturer focusing on the more banal and hackneyed worlds one might hope to inhabit. But imagine the awful scenarios people would create if this technology were available now!"
'Taking My Place' has a gentle guitar lilt and more massed vocal orchestrations that creates a really cool, relaxed feeling with a taut short Beatlesque guitar solo sitting right in the middle. 'An-D' is a love song for the modern age focusing as it does on an android love machine created especially for you and based on algorithms and your 'profile' as the love lorn character at the centre of the song pleads "will you love me An-D". It's a heartwarming nightmare scenario! Sitting right in the middle is a synth solo straight out of mid 80's Steve Winwood album - no bad thing as far as I'm concerned.
In 'Tree Song' we have the most Steely Dan song that there could be without it actually being The Dan, with a tight chiming guitar figure and an aching vocal and a keyboard palette straight off 'Pretzel Logic'.
Probably my favourites here are 'Sucker Bait' and 'Bitter Musician' which both have something of Steely Dan rippling through them with dominant keyboard and tight guitars and a breathy duetted vocal. On the later, It's hard to pin down a meaning as we hear of "the anti-climax, the big reveal" but it seems to be more about the disappointments in being a jobbing musician when there's "nobody here" to listen.
So, do yourself a favour and give this album a spin because it's one of those records that need to be listened to from start to finish, as it builds up a feeling and a vibe, and that seems to be such a rarity today where it seems that streaming single tracks from various artists seems to be the way that an audience access their music today. The album ends with a melancholic instrumental asking the question 'Is There Anybody Out There?' Be that someone - by buying, or at least listening to, the complete album in one glorious dreamy session.