[15 November 2011]
It’s oddly exciting when a band doesn’t arrived fully formed, fully accomplished, and fully matured. And it feels slightly wrong, and almost voyeuristic, to watch them mature and grow into themselves, developing, evolving, and making mistakes. But, all the same, over time it makes for intriguing listening.
Such is the case with Austin, Texas combo the Strange Boys. Three albums in after just two years together is a prolific work rate—this is not a band that wants to stand still. Debut long player The Strange Boys & Girls Club marked them out as nothing more than garage rock also-rans with a penchant for folk; follow-up Be Brave concentrated their ‘60s influence and blues shuffle, and brought with it a justified increase in music press attention. But it’s Live Music, a step further on their progression path from blues punkers to folk furrowers, that should be their well-earned introduction to widespread critical acclaim.
Listening to Live Music, you get the feeling of having heard it all before. But it’s not from recognising well-coursed guitar lines, pre-empting the predictable lyric, or sighing at the over-contrived swagger. It’s in the feeling. And it’s a feeling that made This Is It, White Blood Cells—even, more recently, but to a lesser extent, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines—such important records. It’s the feeling of genuine, unfeigned youth abandon, indisputable talent, and a wanting for, if not creating, something completely new, then making it sound completely new.
Which is an impressive feat, given that the Strange Boys strive for a’ 60s-centric brand of authenticity in every fibre of their music’s being. You listen to the likes of “Doueh” and “Omnia Boa”, and despite sounding like the Stones would have been proud of back in their heyday, the Strange Boys still come off like the latest dubstep remix.
It’s on album opener “Me and You”, with its honky-tonk, barroom piano, and “You and Me”‘s (yes, confusing, eh?) role as the delicate, softly-plucked acoustic interlude, though, that you realise there’s a band with a real future here. And once you look past singer Ryan Sambol’s gravelly, gin-tinged vocals, the dusty guitars, and the over-wrought song titles (“You Take Everything for Granite When You’re Stone” is a perfect example), there’s a tightening of songwriting that not only demonstrates an increasing interest in pillaging the folk, funk, and blues genres, but also a keenness to take it in as many directions as possible on Live Music.
The only drawback of being a band with so many ideas to explore, though, is that the temptation to give all those ideas a home on one album can result in a slightly over-facing collection of songs. Live Music would have worked better if the Strange Boys had worked to the “less is more” rule, stopping short and leaving the listener wanting more. As it is, it feels like there’s a couple too many tracks—and final track “Opus”, as much as it comes across like a lighthearted, harmless bit of fun, ends up sounding like a tagged-on after-thought.
The Strange Boys will make better albums than Live Music. As it stands, this is their current high-point, and a necessary part of the journey to becoming a great act. It’s just a case of honing those skills at adapting their sound to new genres—and keeping things tight and concise. If they can do that, the Strange Boys have an interesting career ahead.