What does it mean when an 18 year-old makes an album in ‘his’ front room in Los Angeles of 1960s style garage rock? Eighteen years old. So, born in 2002 or 2003? That’s fifty-five years since 1965 where this music is absolutely rooted. Almost as old as me. That’s as if, when I was 18 myself, I had decided to play in a St Louis style swing jazz band. In 1978, the same year as Hong Kong Garden, Three Times A Lady, Supernature… an album of trad jazz. Why isn’t it as ridiculous as that? What does it mean?
Jazz in the 1920s was seen as the soundtrack to youthful excess. There was outrage in the papers, there were jazz deaths, jazz scandals. People took cocaine at jazz parties. Jazz Hollywood, in its first bloom, was a corpse flower, chewing up the young and beautiful and funding the vicious apartheid of California. The darkness that was injected into the state’s corrupted rock seams during the jazz age is still there. But is it here, in this music? A swing jazz album in 1978 would have seemed impossibly square, even if, not long after that, Vic Goddard and the new Subway Sect did exactly that, taking a hugely ironic, anti-rock statement out on tour, wearing badly fitting tux’s and attempting a wobbly croon. But this isn’t ironic, or arch, or a provocation. Or the raw recreation of Billy Childish.
But. Never underestimate Americans in their directness. What might, in the UK, be a fey pastiche will probably be taken very seriously by the Arthurian-ly named Christian Gisborne, to the extent that, perhaps him and his equally smooth cheeked band members might already have moved into Arthur Lee’s Love’s notorious mansion in Los Feliz and be in the midst of a never-ending orgy of LSD and car crashes. I hope not. I hope so. I hope not.
Of course, there’s practically an online manual on how to do this right. Julian Cope wrote a big chunk of it and, occasionally, the Starlings remind me of him, or various other Liverpool post-punk artists, or The Fratellis, even, for the singing. Is it a little more accurate in the production? Not really - the reverb is too all encompassing, the guitar distortion too controlled and understood. And the playing, the instrumentation, roams across the sixties into the early seventies. It’s important to be accurate when you make this kind of statement, if you’re not going to warp it then you need to be bang on the Coloursound wa wa money. Use fatter guitar strings maybe. Fumble a bit. Let The Cramps guide you. Still, there is an exuberant energy palpable, imbuing each track, a frantic, battery-charging buzz from the sheer pleasure of performing. Which is, excuse me, a positive thing.
And the tunes? Not as interesting as the concept. I want to know more about Christian’s dad… how would I feel about my son of 15 (he started young) becoming totally fascinated with an outdone, worn out musical genre? Better than him doing Xanax, maybe? But what if the fascination does come with a side order of maximum drug use for the sake of authenticity? Does it? If not (I hope not), that might explain why this album, ultimately, is a polite pastiche, however much the neighbours might have been annoyed during its recording.
Sidenote: When I was sixteen my nascent punk band was condemned as ‘just another MC5 thing’ by an experienced rock photographer. I was both thrilled and hugely disappointed. This off the cuff criticism was a great motivator for the future to try to be not just another, whatever thing. And so this review is meant in the same, off hand loving way.
Main Photo: Skyler Barberio