The UK psych-tinged alt-pop band's fifth album is their subtlest, but it's also among their best.
Now five albums into their six year recording career, UK alt-pop band the Coral have quickly become assured veterans of the "indie" rock scene (their label, Deltasonic, is an affiliate of Sony). Such prodigious output is as old-fashioned as the '60s psychedelic sounds that course through their songs. If Rhino ever fashions a follow-up to the Children of Nuggets box set (Grandchildren of Nuggets?), you can be sure the Coral will have at least one entry there. Like the best paisley shirt-wearing bands of two decades past, the Coral are not strictly imitative of the trippy garage pop from 40 years ago. Instead, they extract the elements of the original sound and funnel them into a more contemporary aesthetic. For late '70s/early '80s bands like the Soft Boys, Lyres, and the Dream Syndicate, this meant filtering the Zombies and the Chocolate Watch Band through a post-punk lens. Today, this entails a double-filtering, since the over-arching indie rock sound of the '00s has been a post-punk revival.
So, the Coral have been looking back to the kaleidoscopic tones of the Summer of Love, but through the not-so-rosy Wayfarers of the Reagan era. On their 2002 self-titled debut, the band came crashing out of the seaside town of Hoylake, England, bursting with the energy of their youth (still teens then, most of them). Predictably, as the lads have grown into young men, the Coral have gradually mellowed. By 2005's excellent The Invisible Invasion, the group were crafting mid-tempo rockers that referenced the Doors and Echo & the Bunnymen, particularly via singer James Skelly's Morrison-meets-McCulloch baritone.
Now, on Roots & Echoes, the Coral's once-frothy stew has simmered further still. At times, the jangly guitars and early autumn moods here verge on twee pop. Although Skelly's voice is too naturally dramatic to evoke Stuart Murdoch's sighing tenor, the light bounce of "Put the Sun Back" will have you gazing wistfully out the window as the days grow shorter. And, in the gorgeous and Smiths-y single "Jaqueline", Skelly gives his title girl the power to bring about summer's end: "All the leaves fell to the ground / When you went away".
Fortunately, Roots & Echoes offers more than just the one mood. In fact, it kicks off with a pair of sparkling tracks that could've been lifted off The Invisible Invasion: Lead single "Who's Gonna Find Me" rides an insistent snare drum beat and features a thick, vibrato guitar worthy of the Church, while "Remember Me" moves from Spaghetti Western guitars to a punchy, rocking chorus. "Fireflies" is slow, brooding, and Doors-like, with a sadly pretty Spanish melody. Even slower is the daydreamy acoustic ballad "Not So Lonely", which bears the elegance of Scott Walker circa 1967. The six-plus-minute closer "Music at Night" is wonderfully evocative. Its pulse is quick, but the dynamics of brushed snare and muted guitar pluckings cause the track to feel slow and spaced out. The song then moves into a bittersweet chamber-pop mode at the end, with legato strings and a high, haunted woodwind.
Those are the album's highlights, but every cut is deserving of praise. Admittedly, the pull of this album is not as immediately strong as the Coral's earlier works. The disc is enjoyable on the initial listen, but the band's quality songwriting and deceptively melodic hooks aren't obvious right away. If I hadn't been reviewing this album and, therefore, in a position where I had to give it attentive repeat listens, I would've been tempted to write it off as only pretty good and move on. Luckily for me, I gave this record the many spins it deserves. With the glut of music so readily available to active listeners these days, it's far too easy to quickly jump from one release to the next without allotting enough time to reap the rewards of a subtler album. Unfortunately, too, the Coral's latest is only distributed digitally in the US, so Americans will have to settle for MP3s or opt for the (thankfully inexpensive) import CD. Either way, Roots & Echoes is well worth the time and money.