It is always a huge pleasure to report the release of a new album from West Coast Sick Line. Since the last one “The Road to Billinge Hill” in 2014 the band has changed line-up, main man Dusty has relocated around the coast of North Wales from Penrhyn Bay to the Conwy Estuary, and the band have played a few more live dates. Once again the Sick Line have caught my ear with this release and will definitely be up there in the “album of the year list” come December.
It is called “Europee”, somewhat current given the June referendum.
As with most WCSL releases there’s a concept/theme going on, but, perhaps not as overtly as in previous releases. To be honest I think that this is their best yet. Not everyone agrees with me on this, notably the band, who seem a little less enthusiastic about it than I am. Perhaps the energy/emotion that went into “Billinge” had more of an impact on their psyche. I think the thing that swings it for me is that it’s less pop and more rock, with a maturity that comes with getting to the fourth release. This feels like a proper album that you can sit down and listen to as a whole experience. Not good for the short attention span. track shuffle, Spotify generation, but great for those who like the experience of a complete set of music that demands your attention. You need to sit down and listen to this all the way through from beginning to end.
It starts off with burst of static, some found sounds and an aural sculpture for just over a minute and then kicks into the excellent brooding “Chips Off” which starts all John Barry 60s TV theme and morphs into a full on ‘Stones rock out. New female lead Chaimaine Smith is a perfect foil to Moonan’s voice, the lyrics are, as usual, excellent. “Incidently, Sophie” is a typical Moonan love song which touches on Nick Drake with its’rich string arrangements and more-ish melody.
Next up is the stunning “Best Lost In Translation” which previously appeared on German Shepherd’s “100” compilation.Moonan mines his Fall/Post Punk back catalogue for influences and launches into a scabrous invective, which is both memorable and adorable. The song structure is fascinating, building organically into a half spoken rant. It reminds me of the complexity of the tunes that Spirit achieved on “12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus”.
Time next for some partying with riotous “Quando” which matches Bo Diddley rhythms with Eurovision chants. I can’t help feeling that this should have been chosen for the UK entry for the Eurovision Song Concert. Pure fun and with a completely inappropriate grunge guitar solo in the middle, which works when it shouldn’t, this should be a stunner live.
Guests, The Bird and The Monkey, add another layer of loveliness to the remarkable “Le Cauchemar” which echoes Dusty’s love of french popular music. It reeks of Serge Gainsborough and his ilk, a gorgeous confection of Gallic sounds and interweaving vocals which would not have been out of place on “Pet Sounds”.
The title track is pure Moonan pop echoing 60s styles – guitar and piano over a simple melody evokes the tension of the “European Project” and is a pause for thought.
The loose bluesy “Thrashing Around” gives Dusty and Chaimaine the chance to strut their vocal stuff, demonstrating that the band can operate in any genre with ease. This is the sound of a band enjoying what they do and giving great pleasure to their audience whilst they do it. The trademark word play, which is always a highlight of a Sick Line album, stands out as Gerald Ratner, Albert Tatlock, and Lucy Meacock, amongst others, get name checked in a fascinating closing section.
The brain flipper on the album is the intense and captivating “Where did all the birds go?” which appears to emerge from somewhere from the west coast of America in the mid 60s. This is Dusty in full protest singer mode, stripped back and emotional, with stunning percussion from David Majoros the bedrock of the track. That you would not expect this on a Sick Line album is its strength.
Nathan Page kicks off the acerbic “Crates” with a motorik bass line, this is pure Sick Line, building to an intensity, before slipping into a quirky middle section, and flipping back into the bass line and a searing guitar solo.
The closer “Clic” freaked me out when I first heard it. I didn’t quite get what was going on. But with all good things it grew on me after a few listens. A slow reflective piece it takes the album to another place entirely and leaves this listener with a few questions about what he has just enjoyed. An atmospheric closer which plays with form and content and drifts away into the night. An unusual, but after some thought, perfect conclusion to a perfect album.
As I say their best yet and not to be missed.
The album is released on April 1st on German Shepherd Records and can be pre-ordered now.