Monday, July 21, 2014

Blues Pills - A Flippin' Fantastic Debut

Blues Pills have been simmering for a few years, and now with the release of their debut long player they have achieved a full boil. The nascent band of youngsters from Sweden consistently write and play beyond their years, and there's no weak links to be found - in fact, this goes straight into my top five for 2014 at this point.

No plodding blues rock to be found here, this is bluesy rock all right, but it swings and moves in a glorious manner that only makes singing sensation Elin Larsson and guitar star Dorian Sorriaux shine all the more. These two toss the spotlight back and forth like no duo in recent times, and when they riff together it's heaven. People tend to refer to new bands in old terms, and I'm OK with that, but this bunch would sound great in any era that I've lived through. Unquestionably, this is one of the most powerful debut releases in the last decade.

Producer Don Alsterberg (Graveyard) sprinkles on just the right amount of fairy dust and horsepower, and I'm reminded of just how much famed engineer Geoff Emerick brought to Robin Trower's first solo outings - you can hear every note with pristine clarity, yet the record retains the sound of a band in a room blasting out its art. The rhythm section of bassist Zack Anderson, and drummer Cory Baker of keeping things moving - this is closer to Cream than the all too often found static rhythms of most blues rock.

Guitarist Dorian Sorriaux is a great riff writer, and an incredibly soulful string stretcher. His soloing is evocative and drenched with a fabulous vibrato. He seldom falls into the realm of cliche, and that is a huge compliment to anyone playing in a genre that's been around for over half a century. I can't help but think of my old boss Michael Schenker in the very early days of UFO. Dorian's right hand is devilishly smooth and sexy.

Elin Larsson fronts the band, and of course all the female blues rocker comparisons are fair and fitting, but again, she's her own person and the latest in a long line of grand dames of rock and the blues. She's a powerful belter who melds melody and great phrasing, and never steps on the toes of the past. Her sense of dynamics makes it for me - she gets soft in all the right places, and makes it plenty hard when it's time. If I play this record next to any singer I to whom may compare Larsson, she comes out standing proud.

The songs....

High Class Woman is a great opener - Larsson rides high over a percolating bass line, and Sorriaux riffs over it in a style that suggests the unholy marriage of early Sabbath and Skynyrd. Then he turns it mystical with some of his patented clean chord work which he solos over with a vibrato that makes for goosebumps. A sensuous rhythm is the connective tissue, and this one dances as much as it rocks. An auspicious beginning if there ever was one.

Sorriaux writes very subtle riffs that often ease their way into the cerebral cortex, as opposed to hitting you over the head, and the riff that rules Ain't No Change suddenly has me remembering the best of the original Fleetwood Mac. I haven't heard a guitarist milk notes like this since Blackmore turned his back on rock. Larsson is again brilliant, and they ride the storm out with great grace, and aplomb.

When I last heard it Jupiter was called Bliss on an earlier Blues Pills EP, but it's gotten a lyrical facelift in the interim. The guitars on this cut are world class, with big cat wah sounds, and a killer arpeggiation that runs through the chorus. The shit classics are made of - familiar themes in new and exciting clothing, and that's largely the job of modern rock. The production shines on this number with some great effects being added to the vocals, and the drums sit perfectly in the mix.

Black Smoke is named perfectly - it's dark, velvety, and bittersweet. Its understated opening soon gets out of the way through a fleet footed shuffle that moves like it's dancing on a sheening coat of luxurious lubricants. Sorriaux often sounds like he's having a blast playing along with his own compositions, and Elin never misses the mark. These kids sound decades beyond their years in musical wisdom.

Larsson takes River and she takes it down, down, down to the penitentiary. Smoking sultry she is, and she's sounding here like a character from a 30s detective novel. Like she sang this under a light post just after midnight. The rhythm section swings hard on this on, and Sorriaux plays it cool - his solo on this one is epic. It soars.

No Hope Left For Me is another slow sultry number that sits soaked in shimmering tremolo, and a sharp back beat. Larsson raises it up for the choruses, and the arrangement and production are picture perfect. This is one of those records that you never second guess - they got it right.

The band gets fast and heavy for Devil Man, and it makes me hope they go faster more often in the future. Elin Larsson wails this one out, and she sounds very comfortable working more forcefully. The guitar solo is right off the first Iron Maiden albums, and that's a huge compliment to my way of thinking. Sorriaux's tone are sublime - he always sounds like he's totally confident in every note.

Astraplane is a space rocker that grooves wonderfully through the galaxy. Pink Hendrix? Hell, these kids weren't born when Jimi and the Floyd were doing their best work, hell, maybe not even their parents. Every song on this record sounds like a soundtrack to a movie I'd love to see, it's all very cinematic. Sorriax's solos sizzle and soar on every track, and on this one he's sounds very near to bending the strings straight off the neck, but always with a soulful shake about them.

Gypsy is straight up Experience music, as the drums cook wildly under a percolating bass, and some vibes out guitars. Larsson is working in the upper range of her vocal cords, and every note is right on. If this doesn't make you dance, you may be dead.

The album closes with Little Sun, and it's a nice ride into the sunset. It's another slow one, but again, the drums keep it from ever sounding slow. It's a slow ride out of a beautiful record. Sorriaux avoids every opportunity to overplay, and Larsson explodes appropriately over the lovely, languid backing tack. His solo on this track announces the arrival of a new guitar hero on the scene. Larsson is a superstar in waiting. This band appears to be getting better and better, and I'm hearing the birth of greatness on these tracks.

This is classic rock - not because it apes a time in the past, but rather because it is perfectly executed, well written, played, and recorded rock music. This album is out in a few days on the 25th, and I can only recommend that you buy it now. You're going to love it - you can thank me later. Did I mention that it has a wonderfully sexy cover?

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