The Upshot: Pure pop for ‘tones people: intricate, compelling rock and psych as pioneered by the masters.
BY FRED MILLS
Andy Partridge and Paul McCartney walk into a bar, and… Hey, it could happen. But why await a report on that fantasy summit when we have the real-life equivalent, the fifth Jamie & Steve record (and followup to 2014’s Circling). Anyone who’s followed the two North Carolina rockers will already know that the Partridge and McCartney nods aren’t random, for as one-half of the Spongetones, Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel have been responsible for some of the best Brit-flavored pop and rock to come of of The States for nearly four decades.
The XTC vibe kicks off the record, in fact, with the cinematic psychedelia of “Sword of Love,” a swirling, kaleidoscopic, nigh-on immersive cornucopia of sounds and textures. That’s followed by “It’s All Because of You” which, with its peppy ukulele (possibly mandolin) riff and sweetly-textured vocal crooning, could be a long-lost outtake from Sir Paul’s second studio album, Ram (unless I miss my guess, there’s a direct nod to that record’s “Ram On” that pops up in “IABOY”). The stomping, raucous “In a Little Tango” aims to catch the listener off-guard via a succession of stylistic twists, one moment a Bonham-type thump, then a sizzling guitar solo, and then a neo-baroque flourish. And finally, “Cry” cues up, an utterly infectious contemporary take on multi-part doo-wop as filtered through the pair’s signature Merseybeat lens—the Spongetones caught in joyous reverie down on the corner under a streetlight’s glow.
All six numbers are immaculately-crafted tunes, all, bringing together influences both disparate and expected while demonstrating an uncommon mastery of the arrangement process. Sub Textural amounts to an aural feast that reveals its intricacies and mysteries over multiple spins, the kind of record destined to intrigue and inspire fans and musicians alike. Perhaps in a record review at some unspecified point in the future, a writer will be inspired to pen the phrase, “Jamie and Steve walk into a bar….” Hmmm?
DOWNLOAD: “Cry,” “Sword of Love”