Wednesday 7 August 2019

The Roadside Crows - The Roadside Crows (2019)

Country: Australia
Style: Alternative
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 7 Jul 2019
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Here's something different: the debut from an Aussie rock band by the name of the Roadside Crows. I'd tell you what style they play except that I can't really be sure what they're aiming at. Is this a coherent album? Not on your nelly. But hey, did I enjoy the heck out of it? Why, yes I did!

It starts out strange with a 58 second intro and a sub-two minute first song that sound like Tom Waits trying alt country. The latter is named If There's a God Out There, with the obvious subtitle of "He's sure got a strange sense of humour." It's subdued for a song, more like a spoken word performance of alternative poetry with gospel backing and even some brass at the end.

And then suddenly we're in garage rock territory with My God is Better Than Your God, delightfully lo fi and sounding as vibrant as if it was recorded live on my desk right in front of me. The vocals are spat out with suitable pith but it was a couple of drum fills that sold me on it. It sounds like a completely different band or perhaps even two, given that, even at less than two and a half minutes, it stops halfway and restarts at a different pace.

I started to wonder if the Roadside Crows were a band or a record label who had put out a weird compilation album without band names. Well, consistency does show up in a few ways but the band apparently have no idea what style they play. It gets more than a little schizophrenic.

Rest Well, for instance, finds a patient groove. It's alt blues, the sort of sound I might expect to hear behind Screaming Jay Hawkins, except Andrew on lead vocals sounds far more like a younger, more acid Nick Cave. In an Empty Room in an Empty House comes up next as a solo acoustic guitar piece with a deep resonant voice over it and a wild atmosphere conjured up behind.

They're both interesting songs. Rain and Another Morning, however, are just more songs on an album where most of the tracks can't be described with that sort of dismissal. They're things like a delightful ska tune called I Fucked Up, which would be a huge hit at parties, or a fifties rock 'n' roll number called I Wanna Make a Cuppa Tea. Like them or not, you're not going to call these just more songs. They're characters in a variety performance.

Some of the songs don't even feel like they were recorded in a studio, or at least not while the artists knew it. The 29 seconds of Trojan sound like a guitarist noodling away in a corner between takes not having a clue that the mike's still on. Without sounds like sixties folk pop recorded outside at a party. In an Empty Room could be a street recording of a depressed but very talented busker.

And yet others are clearly crafted songs, like Faces Make Fools, which is a really tight track with a neatly escalating sense of tension that evaporates in effortless style. Talk is also pretty traditional, relatively speaking, a rock 'n' roll number with a welcome return for brass. The last serious song, In the Sun (Tammie's Song) is more modern sounding Nick Cave with a notably playful bass when the whole song gets loose. The Roadside Crows clearly have no intention of ever being predictable.

So, after all that and a few times through this album, I'm still not quite sure what to think about it. They're clearly talented. I dug a lot of these songs. They don't sound like anyone else, especially on a grand scale if you factor in just how many genres they play in. And not being able to describe a band sounds like a positive to me and my eclectic heart. But somehow I do want to and I can't. Whether you need this album in your life will depend on whether that sounds like a positive rather than a negative.

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