The term “British Rock” has always served well as a fanciful definition of the classic pop sound made by artists that hail from that hail from England and places in proximity — Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the like. It was birthed by the Beatles of course, but soon came to encompass the music brought forth by bands like the Kinks, the Who, the Seekers and dozens of other outfits that kept their melodic sensibilities intact, even while peppering them with graphic references to their native cultural and specific home environs. It’s a style that’s still relished and adored — quaint, easily accessible, often eccentric and frequently imbued with a particularly wry charm and cutting sense of humor.
Sadly though, today it’s rare to find a band that boasts those qualities, at least in terms of those who lay claim to some measure of authenticity. So it’s a welcome relief when a group like Pugwash comes along, one that can indeed partake of a legitimate musical heritage worthy of their pedigree. Naturally, the usual reference points apply here — the Fabs of course, Electric Light Orchestra, the Kinks, XTC, and even the Beach Boys to boot, the latter often being included in that musical smorgasbord, their sun-glow origins notwithstanding. Still, Pugwash are a particularly unique Anglo ensemble, one reason perhaps that they didn’t make their Stateside debut until relatively recently. They might have been a bit too anglocentric for American audiences these days, a sad fact that’s denied those on this side of the Great Pond any extensive encounter with their earlier efforts.
The brainchild of musician Thomas Walsh — who is actually Irish but closely tied to XTC frontman Andy Partridge (who originally signed the band to his Ape House label in 2009) — Pugwash made its belated introduction to these shores only a year ago with the comprehensive A Rose in a Garden of Weeds: A Preamble Through the History of Pugwash. The title was, in the spirit of their devilish attitude, rather longwinded, but the album did provide the quick catch-up needed. Coming on its heels, the similarly impishly titled Play This Intimately (As if Among Friends) reaffirms the eccentricity in their attitude, but happily, never allows their cleverness to impeded on the melodic content. While there does tend to be a hint of acid-tinged psychedelia in this song selection, the single most specific definition is that of pure pop: a wistful, melodic, mostly mellow, often pastoral sound that’s pleasing.
Consequently, Play This Intimately (As if Among Friends) is often as unobtrusive as its banner implies, but still cheery enough to beg repeated hearings. Songs like “Kicking and Screaming”, “Lucky on Every Way” and “The Fool I Had Become” match innocence with intellect, an attractive notion that always works well for Anglophile enthusiasts. And while the music sometimes seems a throwback of sorts — Ray Davies, Andy Partridge and Jeff Lynne all make cameos — it’s still fresh, winsome and enticing enough for a solid embrace. Take the advice the title offers; you’ll find that Pugwash offers a wonderful respite.