April Clare Welsh
, November 29th, 2012 10:48
This year's Mercury Prize list featured an unprecedented glut of acts who all eschew forward thinking in favour of the defiantly retrograde. Looking back over their shoulder - while standing with their feet glued firmly to the lino floor - hankering after a golden age certainly comes with its pitfalls and for the contrived and disingenuous, the cracks begin to show: you can generally sniff out an imposter.
LA four-piece Allah-Las brazenly scuff the skirting boards of 60s West Coast psychedelia and put two fingers up to progress as they saunter down the well-trodden path of the canon which they seek to ape. Kicking their heels in the sand, effortlessly teasing out grooves from guitars like serpents from baskets, they deal in paisley pigments, hypnotic currency, twelve-string guitars, melodic swoon and Byrds-ian jangle, it's a heady concoction, yes, but one which sadly leaves little to the imagination, when surely that's what this era was all about?
For starters, the opening gambit of this eponymous debut veers perilously close to the edge of what, in terms of the retro seeking, is, frankly unacceptable. Flirting with those pesky peddlers of pseudo-psych (insert: Kasabian, et al) it's an opener which stubbornly dons a retro 'do and a deep V and drives tentatively into that long dark night; you'd be advised to ignore it and move on, they'd be advised to re-think the record's sequencing.
Because, as the Allah-Las confidently trip through stoner jam 'Don't You Forget It', and they begin forging a welcome alliance with bands like Ultimate Spinach, The Electric Prunes and of course, the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, things start to look up. 'Busman's Holiday' follows suit but delivers with more rock & roll swagger, writhing around with hand percussion and crotch defying pants like the Stones in the early days. The widescreen panoramic slide guitar of instrumental 'Sacred Sands' provides a mellifluous interlude, and the back throated drawl returns for 'No Voodoo', mixed up with simple, sparkling guitar lines, 50s vocal harmonies, a heavy percussive shuffle and carnal declarations like “you need someone's touch real soon,” all guiding you back through a rollicking rock & roll retrospective. 'Sandy' – poised on a moment of chalky toned reminiscence – has “lost her mind” as the band re-imagine the Icarus myth in a Beau Brummel vein: “you flew too close to the sun”. The brain bending spirit of the era is revisited. So far, so stoned.
The understated shimmer of 'Ela Navega' takes on a similar guise but treads the softer side of the tracks, winding fruity guitar licks and maracas around a Balearic lilt; post-tropical pop for the lazy, or armchair tropicalia, if you like. It's an upbeat cut on a break-up album which, by the very nature of its content, is of a melancholic disposition; the pop-noir of 'Catalina', occupying the minor key throughout, certainly encapsulates this. Then there's the single; 'Tell Me (What's On Your Mind)', the melodic diamond in the rough, with its sticky sweet chorus, and next up 'Vis-A-Vis', which reads like a transatlantic exposition of late 80s indie-pop, from The Rain Parade to The Field Mice. However, 'Long Journey' – a slowed down, barbiturate soaked thieving of The Roots' frenetic garage stomper 'It's Been A Long Journey' – is retro overkill, let down by its origin; this record is revivalist enough without adding a cover version to the mix.
You could say Allah-Las is more of a fleeting tryst than a serious commitment; it's too self-aware to be an all consuming testament to those intoxicated days of yore. With little meat on the bones, it's difficult wrap your jaws around and as those occasional deep-filled prog wig-outs keep slipping away, they provide a glimmer of hope, but the doses are far too small and far too measured to have any real effect. If only the Allah-Las would ham it up, lose their shit - imbibe the period rather than self-consciously sip from it - then perhaps you wouldn't leave feeling like you've been a little short changed.