Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Straight Arrows 'Rising'

Blank Realm, Royal Headache, Beaches; Aussie psyche influenced guitar certainly seems to be having a moment right now. Into the kaleidoscope swirl is Rising, the second offering from Straight Arrows, the Owen Penglis helmed project from Sydney. Originally concieved as a mechanism for the erstwhile producer to yell about break ups and band politics, their debut It’s Happening was a warmly received, if not exactly groundbreaking nostalgia tinged fuzz fest. What we get here is more of the same, but slightly thicker sounding, like they’ve given their sound time to grow into itself 
The album opens with a funeral march of an introduction. Jarring to the ears and, in the context of what follows, wholly out of place. About thirty seconds too long and with no real purpose seemingly other than to confuse the listener as to what is about to happen, it left me baffled. However, about 8 seconds into first track proper Fruits of the Forest all is forgotten and forgiven. Along with Can’t Stand It, the scene is set for a delicious dirge-pop journey, the initial feeling one of a less refined 21st century Buffalo Springfield.  Obvious single Petrifed is up next, and with its bordering on primitive, impossible to ignore stomp successfully delivers on the band’s self-penned promise of “rug cutting” tunes. On first listen, it was all I could do not to bust a move in the aisles of my local supermarket.  

Rising is a thoroughly modern take on bluesy garage rock. Think early Stones before they realised their own power, via Deep South legends Black Lips or Harlem, but with consistently, honest-to-goodness danceable, anthemic songs. It’s a decidedly mid-fi affair; no excessive polish or production bangs and whistles, just enough to let the tracks shine. Yes, it’s Penglis’s baby, but he’s assembled a band of more than capable musicians to have his back; bassist Angela Garrick strings the whole thing together even in its fuzziest moments and Adam William’s on drums drives each none-longer-than-three-and-a-half minutes song onward perfectly until we’re almost falling over into them. Don’t Tell Me is a definite high spot and example of his perfect percussion; the energy of this track made me long to see them live. Only on Rotten Teeth does the nod to the past veer into Banana Splits-esque parody, but still, there’s something impossibly loveable in the spiky fizz of the guitar, even if the vocals are slightly grating.  

The nostalgia is much better managed on Don’t Call My Name, a darker Merseybeat heavy groove that again made me want to get up and dance and a chorus that I found myself singing to for days after listening. At its best, as an entity, the album calls to mind a pre stadium Jefferson Airplane, all the better for its self-containment; the penned in energy is infectiousFinal song Never Enough shudders with shimmering reverb and beautiful harmonies and left me agreeing; it wasn’t enough, this is a definitely a band I need to investigate live to get the full benefit of the vigour that spills from the speakers.  This decade, musically, has at times seemed like a battle between over produced pop and bands with a sense of their place in their own history fighting back with understated releases that straddle the gulf between the past and present. This dose of mid-fi fun from Straight Arrows is a thoroughly gratifying addition to the armoury. 

Words - Angi Strafford

'Rising' is out on Agitated Records on June 23rd