Live Music is the newest release from Rough Trade Records and The Strange Boys. Now, the title is “Live” as in “give” or “with” not “strive” or “drive.” This IS NOT a live record at all. True, the title may cause some confusion, but The Strange Boys music shows that they are not confused at all.
The Austin, TX band fronted by Ryan Sambol have been playing since the early 2000’s when they formed from junior high jam sessions. This is the bands third full-length record and the first that will be released exclusively on the prestigious UK label Rough Trade.
Live Music sits comfortably in one sound, one style, one genre for the approximate 45 minutes that it plays out. What is that genre? Good question. The record definitely exists in a retro vibe but still has a very modern attitude. Dancey, rock ‘n’ roll, soulful, folky: these are the first words that come to mind. As far as a genre, well, we haven’t figured out a word for it yet. Whatever you want to call it, The Strange Boys are completely comfortable making that kind of music.
If you like Dr. Dog’s tendency to go retro, then this is the album you have been waiting for. The Strange Boys have found a way to take their style and recordings completely back to the 60’s, while somehow still keeping the music relevant to modern ears.
Sambol’s charming, whimpering voice creates a happy, lazy atmosphere. Especially on a track like “Mama Shelter” his vocal stretches and reaches for high notes like a lazy cat waking up from a nap stretching out it’s legs.
The Strange Boys also use the album to show off the large array of instruments that they can play. The typical acoustic, electric, bass, and drums are offered up in most songs. Then they add in little touches of upright piano, harmonica, and banjo. In the song “Right Before” an organ is also featured. All of these instruments, and especially the way they are expertly played and recorded, add to the classic 60’s and 70’s sound that is achieved on the record.
Not a soul who claims to like any kind of rock music could seem to find anything unpleasant about “Live Music.” The only problem is, just being pleasant sometimes isn’t enough to be remembered. By listening to one or two songs of this album you basically get the idea. Nothing new can be learned about the band or what they do by listening to all 14 songs.
I find it troubling as a listener that I still can’t figure out how something with such an interesting and developed style could end up coming across as boring when put in the context of an entire album. Each song is very likable on it’s own, but as an album they all just blur together.
In the end, Live Music is still missing that one single. That standout song that defines the record and the band. Unfortunately, this could be the thing that holds the album back from being heard by the vast majority of music fans.
With that being said, The Strange Boys’ “Live Music” is still worth a good listen or two. If a person can get past the second half of a record that drags then there is no doubt they would love the album. And for the rest of us, there are at least a few great songs to keep in the ol’ iTunes.
Songs to listen to:
Track 1- Me and You
This song starts the record out strong with a cool 70’s Kinks kind of vibe. The closest track that could be considered as a single.
Track 4- Punk’s Pajamas
A very catchy rock ‘n’ roll number that will pick up the spirits on a rainy day.
Track 5- You and Me
A breath of fresh air. It’s always nice to take a break for a love song in an album like this.
Track 12- Hidden Meanings, Soul Graffiti
One of the few tracks that breaks the mold just a bit near the end of the album. Unique driving chorus that builds and builds.
Review written by Mat Shoare