Monday, 29 November 2010

THE SILVER SEAS - Château Revenge!

silver seas

In 1996, Daniel Tashian (son of country-folk duo Barry and Holly Tashian) recorded a country rock influenced album named ‘Sweetie’ with legendary producer T-Bone Burnett. Despite being created with Burnett and featuring a cast of top notch session musicians (including Larry Knetchtel, Jay Joyce and the legendary Booker T Jones), the album was not a commercial success.

In 1999, following a change of musical direction, Tashian teamed up with producer Jason Lehning to form the core of The Bees, a band with a retro pop fixation. Their debut release, 2004’s ‘Starry Gazey Pie’ features some good, hooky songs and a few wandering ones. Their sophomore album ‘High Society’ has a bigger focus on 60s and 70s style hooks and is instantly enjoyable. ‘High Society’ secured The Bees a record deal with Cheap Lullaby Records who reissued the album the following year. The reissue of ‘High Society’ was credited to The Silver Seas, a moniker chosen after a British band named The Bees had gained popularity and held the rights to that name. [‘Starry Gazey Pie’ was reissued as a Silver Seas album too, though only in MP3 format].

With some of the more lightweight sixties influences taking a back seat and even more seventies power pop and pomp influences coming to the fore, this third Silver Seas release ‘Château Revenge!’ takes those influences and bends them into something near retro pop perfection.

‘Another Bad Night’s Sleep’ is an incredibly busy number driven by wall of ringing guitars. Daniel Tashian’s vocal is confident and sounds superb against the many guitar parts and tight rhythm section. It’s a strong opener and one which captures many of the best aspects of The Silver Seas’ sound. ’Jane’ is slightly simpler, very much in a jangle pop vein. With more space for the song to breathe, against a gentle backbeat, there are great fills on the electric piano. Once again, it’s Tashian’s vocal backed by crystal clear guitar work which is most likely to pull in the listener. When that voice meets well arranged harmony vocals, it’s really hard not to be captivated by The Silver Seas’ brand of power pop. During ’The Best Things In Life’, Daniel Gherke (drums) and Lex Price (bass) prove themselves as a rhythm section, with a punchy approach which barely lets up throughout the song. Again, a full band sound is padded out with string sounds. Here, there are 10cc influences bought to the table and a slightly funky vibe.

Featuring a gentle vocal delivery, solid bass and multi layered sound, ‘What’s The Drawback?’ uncover an absolute love of Jeff Lynne. While they’ve not stooped to the squishy drum sound and vocals that sound like Sparky’s Magic Piano, there are definite influences from ‘Evil Woman’, ‘Sweet Talking Woman’ and other 70s classics. Bringing the point home with a nod and a wink, ELO even earn a namecheck in the song before a quick burst of strings recalls an old ELO tune. A beautifully played guitar solo shows a great amount of restraint and sounds like a cross between ‘That Lady’ by The Isley Brothers and classic Steely Dan, all in all making this one of the best songs on the album. Equally fantastic, ‘Somebody Said Your Name’, offers plenty of similarly busy 70s pop, as a slightly distorted bass and electric piano lead a confident feel-good number. Tashian is in great vocal form here, but it’s the music which makes it so captivating. There’s a musical tightness and perfection here worthy of Todd Rundgren’s 1973 masterpiece ‘Something/Anything’.

‘Home & Dry’ changes the mood, bringing things down from a level of 70s brilliance to more sedate singer-songwriter territory. At first Tashians voice and acoustic guitar dominate the arrangement. As the track progresses there’s backing from mandolin (obviously an influence from Tashian’s parents), and then with the band joins – the fuzz bass and drums adding a punch, string sounds adding colour. Also more subtle, ‘From My Windowsill’ provides the album’s melancholy AM radio moment, strings, organs, a twangy guitar solo and soft harmony vocals are all delivered with The Silver Seas’ magnificence – creating something big, but without bombast.

‘Candy’ is full of Todd Rundgren-esque grandiosity. The musical arrangement has everything thrown at it – including the ubiquitous strings and huge backing vocals, hovering somewhere between The Beach Boys and ELO. Buried within the kitchen sink approach, there are the sounds of sparingly used glockenspiels. Granted, it doesn’t feature the retro-pop sleigh bells which have a habit of creeping in with things like this, but frankly, there just isn’t room! ‘What If It Isn’t Out There’ showcases soul influences in its vocal stylings. While the huge harmony vocals provide a big hook, it’s Lex Price’s unshakable bass playing which grabs the attention. By turns both solid and warm, the bass sound here is fantastic. The slightly fuzzy, noisy guitar solo feels a little out of character for The Silver Seas, but this has been balanced out by the addition of string backing and the fact it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

‘Help Is On The Way’ makes decent use of a twangy guitar, an uneasy string break and a busy keyaboard loop. While parts of the arrangement are great (some nice backing vocals), this is one of the weaker numbers, due to the band not really cashing in on a potential hook. It’s weaker than most of the album for sure, but measured against most band’s standards it’s still better than filler material.
‘Those Streets’ has moments where the ringing guitars and electric pianos from other Silver Seas numbers are present, but its punchiness is more in keeping with 90s style indie-rock than 70s pop/rock. Daniel Gherke’s drumming takes the reigns for an upbeat number with a decent chorus. Tashian adopts his preferred ringing guitar tone again, and throughout this number it becomes rather insistent - almost relentless – despite only being present on the right channel, in an old fashioned stereo display. [In fact, this album would have sounded superb presented in a 5.1 mix, since it’s as multi-layered as any of the better known Flaming Lips recordings which were issued in that format].

The album closes on a rather more subtle note with ‘Kid’, an optimistic ballad, with Tashian leading things with his acoustic guitar. By the songs end, it’s transformed into a piece of sweeping beauty, with lavish strings. In a slightly tongue in cheek moment at the albums close, Tashian introduces the band members like a Vegas showman. As the album ends, as a listener, it feels like the end of a great journey into a world of cool retro pop.

It may sound like a big claim, but ‘Château Revenge!’ is one of the finest power pop albums ever. Each of its twelve songs offers the listener something great - and it really sounds like an album in the old-fashioned sense, as opposed to a collection of songs. Since the Jellyfish albums became the yardstick by which all power pop releases were measured in the 1990s and forever beyond, in a perfect world, ‘Château Revenge!’ would be the album to which all others aspire to in the 21st Century. An indispensible disc.


November 2010

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