While the international pop community no doubt recognizes
the names above thie title right away, the average punter would be forgiven for
drawing a blank without a subtle nudge, as in, “Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel
of the Spongetones.” Lightbulb moment duly sparked – yeah, that Spongetones, NC’s resident Merseybeat-cum-power-pop auteurs of
several decades’ tenure – the knowing nods soon give way to blissful smiles as
the ‘tones guitar and bassist unspool their new 6-song EP, The Next Big Thing.
It’s the followup to English
Afterthoughts, a full-length issued in late ’09 to the warm embrace of
longtime Spongetones aficionados (including us at BLURT: read the review here).
Yet where EA was clearly in the Beatlesque
tradition of the mothership (there was even a ukulele nod to George Harrison),
this new disc takes that primarily as a jumping off point from which to steer
very firmly in the direction of latterday art-pop – in places, even art-rock –
with complex production and arrangements that bring to mind such avatars of
arcana as Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne (Move/ELO era), XTC, and (for all you
youngsters) Apples in Stereo.
From opening track “Seaside Sparrow,” which does indeed dip
its toes firmly into the aforementioned XTC’s pond (the singing’s pure Andy
Partridge-Colin Moulding, and the music suggests a close cousin to some of Skylarking‘s material), through the
closing title track’s lush, orchestral/choral vibe that, thanks to some trippy
phasing effects and sitar-like lead guitar, emerges as one of the year’s finest
psychedelic moments, there’s nary a misstep here. The duo’s vocals in
particular are worth attending closely: over 30 years of harmonizing tends to
spawn a form of telepathic interaction anyway, but these guys sound like they
could be siblings, wrapping around and coating each other’s voices as if they
were rich ice creams being blended together for a luxury dessert dish.
“Writing, recording, and performing music is so deeply
embedded in our DNA that we couldn’t stop if we wanted to,” the duo writes, on
the EP sleeve’s liner notes. Boy howdy to that – the aural proof is in the
grooves at hand.
Next Big Thing,” “Can We Start Again,” “Seaside Sparrow” FRED MILLS