The first song starts slowly but soon surges into a manic, sing-songy chant. It then evolves into its upbeat “we ain’t got school in the morning” chorus before some hard rock riffs briefly take over. The process then repeats itself (albeit without the metallic guitar), thereby foreshadowing the wildly eccentric things that this bizarre Welsh band has in store for the adventurous listener. First of all, the album is sung in both English and Welsh, so it immediately won’t appeal to everybody. However, the band’s eclectic brand of sunny psychedelic pop is likely to become addictive to anyone who craves lushly melodic sound tapestries and supremely singable pop choruses. You’ll probably be singing along even when you have no idea what it is that they’re saying (or what you’re singing). The many musical layers and sonic shifts presented are also sure to occupy, as the band crams ideas upon ideas into their concise songs. Carnival-esque keyboards, delightful horns, rip roaring guitar, floating woodwinds, and strange synthesizers are some of Gorky's out-of-leftfield instrumentation, which at various times recalls the likes of Frank Zappa, The Beach Boys, krautrock bands like Can, and old progressive rock outfits such as the Soft Machine. There’s even a song named after the Soft Machine’s Kevin Ayers, while the band’s propensity for catchy “la la las” makes me think that Stereolab is also an influence. I find this stuff addictive along the lines of the equally wacked out (though far different) Flaming Lips, since no matter how experimental the band gets they always have an infectious innocence to their baroque sound. The end result usually leaves me feeling good even when the band’s "everything but the kitchen sink" philosophy is overly intrusive or too cartoonishly over the top. Introducing…, which contains 12 songs culled from two early U.K. albums plus some singles and EPs, is an excellent introduction to this unique and at times brilliant band, and anyone who appreciates adventurous and uplifting music should be willing to give it a try. After all, happiness is a universal language.
Barafundle (Fontana ’97) Rating: A-
This is another happy, whimsical hybrid that more often than not is utterly gorgeous, even if it's overly stuffed at 17 songs. Some of these melodic songs could give peak Ray Davies a run for his money (at least musically; lyrically they’ll never be in his league), as the album generally focuses on the band’s mellow side. And though the album is more straightforward and woodwind/horn heavy than Introducing…, it still contains substantial experimentation and plenty of the "wrong yet somehow right" layering of sounds that have become the band’s trademark. Some of these wispy melodies are so soft that you can barely hear them, making much of the album lovely but slight. They’re not exactly given greater gravity by lines like “and if you really want to kiss her, then go ahead and say, isn't it a lovely day?” (when they’re actually singing in English, that is), but such wide-eyed innocence is actually part of this young band’s out-of-time charm. Simply put, their psychedelic folk has little in common with anything else that's happening in the world of music today, and the fact that they sound like a great, long lost ‘60s band makes Gorky's a band to cherish. As on their previous American release, the band’s experimental bent ensures that not every track here is a bulls-eye, and most of the louder sections sound out of place. However, the band’s floating melodies and chanted vocals (with lots of "oohs" and "la la las") cast an enchanting overall spell. As for album highlights, "Diamond Dew" and "Heywood Lane" stand out as being especially catchy, while "Patio Song" is simply one of the prettiest songs that I've ever heard (at least the first half of it is before it totally changes gears). While we're at it, "Cursed, Coined, And Crucified" is a lovely instrumental, and "The Barafundle Bumbler," "Starmoonsun," "Sometimes The Father Is The Sun," "Miniature Kingdoms," and "Dark Night" are all easily recommendable as well. The majority of the album is pretty great, actually.
Spanish Dance Troop (Beggars Banquet ’99) Rating: B+
The fact that this singular band had such a difficult time finding distribution for this album speaks volumes about the general (lousy) state of the music industry. Fortunately, Beggars Banquet stepped up to the plate, and though this is more of a hit or miss affair than the two previous gems, the end result is another enjoyable album that exists beyond the confines of time and place. Again the band weaves (occasionally overly) complex compositions that reveal a mastery of many instruments (primarily acoustic guitars, violins, keyboards, and horns), while they also prove themselves capable of a beautifully sincere simplicity. At first I thought that this mostly mellow album contained a few too many filler throwaways (“Hair Like Monkey Teeth Like Dog” is especially annoying) and atmospheric lovelies that don’t really take off. However, repeat listens reveal buried treasures each time. Besides, Euros Childs' voice would sound lovely simply singing the phone book, and when the band connects on songs such as the busy glam rocker “Poodle Rockin’,” the lush “She Lives On A Mountain,” the sing along duet “Faraway Eyes” (my favorite track), the loping, Beach Boys quoting title track, and short but sweet tracks like “Don’t You Worry” and “Christmas Eve,” Gorky’s remain a one-of-a-kind experience. May they continue to make charmingly unique and lovely albums for years to come, record company indifference be damned.
The Blue Trees (Beggars Banquet ’01) Rating: A-
Founding member and lead guitarist John Lawrence left the band after Spanish Dance Troupe, apparently taking a great deal of the band’s weirdness with him. Indeed, this low-key beauty was a bit of a surprise, and there are times when I miss the up tempo sing alongs and sense of adventure of the band's early albums. But The Blue Trees is a consistently gorgeous mini-album. Even the running time (approximately 25 minutes) is perfect, for too much of this stuff would likely get a bit boring; instead, Gorky's leaves me wanting more. The title track, one of three instrumentals, sets the pace with a pretty 2-minute intro, while "This Summer's Been Good From The Start" is every bit as upbeat and summery as you would expect. "Lady Fair" has a lullaby-like melody you can practically float away on, and though the mournful mood music of "Foot and Mouth '68" is a bit of a bummer, "Wrong Turnings" is another pretty example of what I'd call "perfect poolside music." "Fresher Than The Sweetness In Water" is a rare upbeat excursion, and it's the type of catchy, sweetly singable song that this band excels at, while "Face Like Summer" is a wonderful showcase for Euros Childs' gorgeous voice. The pretty aural wallpaper of "Sbia Ar Y Seren" then closes out an album that lacks the playful zaniness that was such a fun part of the band's past; still, these slight, folksy tunes comprise one of this band's most consistently appealing set of songs yet.
send me an email
Back To Artist Index Home Page