Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 5 Jun 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter
I first saw French band Dätcha Mandala described as stoner/desert rock, but that's not strictly true, even with the fuzz on Jérémy Saigne's lead guitar that makes the stoner side of that believable. It's not remotely based in a jam mindset, so I'm not buying desert rock at all. The band describe their sound simply as heavy blues and that feels fair to me, even before Missing Blues shows up to be completely overt, though other tags on their Bandcamp page ring true too, such as hard rock and psychedelic rock.
I'd add a few labels of my own too, as there's plenty of southern rock to be found in songs like Mother God, even before the slide guitar shows up, and a majority of the album plays in mildly psychedelic pop territory. The result is that, even though Stick It Out kicks off the album like a punchy stoner rock anthem, the next few songs continue to add influences until we realise just what the band's scope is.
Mother God brings in the blues, right down to a harmonica, but adds T. Rex pop sensibilities too. With that southern rock sound that extends to slide guitar, they sound like the Black Crowes covering seventies glam rock. Who You Are is heavy blues in the way that Status Quo used to be heavy blues in their heyday but the high pitched Nicolas Sauvey adds a Budgie feel as well. Missing Blues is pure blues, drenched in harmonica, kick drum and distorted vocals.
The band's sound palette is wrapped up with Morning Song, which sounds more like the Beatles with a side of Queen. Imagine if, after Freddy died, Brian and the boys had brought in Paul McCartney to take his place. Once this sound is in place, that aspect never really vanishes from the album. Sick Machine may have strong nods to electronica and even disco but it's the Beatles at heart with dashes of Queen everywhere. Moha is looser, with Indian instrumentation like hand drums and what sounds like a sitar but probably isn't.
Even Tit's, which returns to overt blues, stays in psychedelic pop territory and it takes really heavying back up to shift more to the Budgie vibe, like On the Road. That's done with emphasis on Pavot, which closes the album out with urgent and tortured punk attitude, and on Eht Bup, which is easily my favourite song here. It has a driving riff that's as close to stoner rock as anything since the opener, but the vocals remain ever light and playful, whether they soar like Burke Shelley or harmonise right out of the Beatles textbook. It's like the album in microcosm.
Dätcha Mandala are a trio, so they have fewer musicians than the Beatles or Queen had voices but, like Budgie, they're able to generate serious power as and when they need it and always seem like there are more people than there are making their music. Sauvey is a fine lead singer who shines particularly brightly in the second half of Tit's, but he also provides harmonica, bass and acoustic guitar. Saigne handles the electric guitar while JB Mallet sits behind the drumkit, not just keeping everything lively but shifting tempo on a dime when needed.
This is the band's second album, following 2017's Rokh, which I'll now seek out eagerly. While Eht Bup is easily my favourite song here, with Tit's and Who You Are not too far behind, pretty much all the rest aren't far off the pace, making this a highly consistent and enjoyable album. I'm intrigued by what its predecessor sounded like.