There’s no pussy-footing about it: Neverever loves the sound of the golden oldies from the dawn of rock ‘n roll. Even a brief exposure to the from-Glasgow-to-Los Angeles group’s debut album Angelic Swells will cotton listeners onto the fact that the pair is quite enamored with the sonic hallmarks of late ‘50’s and early ‘60s rock ‘n roll, as demonstrated by the swinging Bo Diddley beats, the trebly guitars, the croon-with-attitude sock-hop melodies of singer Jihae Meek, and even cute little production touches like the “Leader of the Pack”-esque revving motor and speeding tires that kicks off “Young Runaways”. Not that mere revivalism is all there is to be found on Angelic Swells, for Neverever uses its bits and bobs of pop history to fashion an infectious album that indulges in retro affectations without being stodgy or kitschy.
Neverever’s mix of ‘50s rock ‘n roll, ‘40s vocal pop melodies, and ‘60s girl-group production touches is prepared with the intent of applying it to heady, roller coaster tales of love lost and love denied. Throughout Angelic Swells, the band is inspired and captivated by the experience that is young love, where every little crush and heartbreak feels like the end of the world.
Adding to the melodrama, a good deal of the album’s track list references death and/or physical violence. With her bold, tuneful voice, Jihae Meek delves into tales of incest (“Blue Genes”), murder (“Teardrop Tattoo”), and drowning in the ocean as one mourns a departing lover (“Underwater Ballet”), assertively delivering them in hook after indelible hook. That girl could be singing listings from a phone book and I’d listen to it, particularly if she brought along those swooning backing harmonies with her.
Certainly, such a reverence for teen dreams of pop past runs the risk of becoming overly precious. Neverever avoids this pitfall by making every track as fun a romp as possible, regardless of how much of a downer the lyrics can be. “Coconut Shampoo” kicks off with a jittery New Wave-inspired riff and progressively builds in anticipation of Jihae’s wordless chorus, which is immediately followed by a tension-wracked zigzag guitar line. Opening with snatches of gunshots and scampering horses, “Cowboys and Indians” indulges in the iconography provided by its title, buttressed by rumbling drums and war cries that would make Adam Ant proud. A stop-start arrangement and judicious use of handclaps make “Bitch Boys” feel like some lost AM radio classic, while later, the group is able to lighten up the “I’m going to jail for killing you” narrative of “Teardrop Tattoo” by turning the phrase “olly-olly-oxen-free” into a ridiculously catchy hook. Throw in a cover of the Plimsouls’ “Now” and you’ve got yourself a darn good half-hour listen.
Personally, I’ve always found it hard to warm up to artistic works that are besotted with the standard cultural hallmarks of mid-20th century America, for they frequently come bundled with a sense of tidiness and innocence that always rings false to a history-buff like myself. Neverever takes its cues from the oldies jukebox, but the group opts for a more free-wheeling, almost punky approach that ensures Angelic Swells doesn’t come off like the aural equivalent of some phony retro ‘50s diner. Not to mention that hooks like these would be welcome in any decade.
// Notes from the Road
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