A sparkling debut album with echoes of Byrne and Bowie
Utopia. You can overthink it, you know. I mean, sure, draw out your nice little societal schematics, neatly allocate your resources and decide what kind of sex everyone gets to have if you must, but as far as we’re concerned all you need for a perfect world is a skinny guy with a sharp suit and even sharper songs. Named after an imaginary never-never land envisioned in a dream, the shiny little microcosm that is Londoner [b]Max McElligott[/b]’s debut has been a long time in the nurturing and crafting, and it shows. Smoother, richer and more substantial than the skittish, David-Byrne-on-a-hot-tin-roof peacock pop of 2009 single [b]‘Pieces Of You’[/b], everything here is beautifully made, lightweight and durable. Sure, in places you can see the grain of the building materials, but seriously, check out the dovetails on this baby.
Anyway, quit yer bitchin’ – if it weren’t for the odd plank of Byrne and some hefty joists of [b]Bowie[/b], half the houses on Indie Avenue would never get built, and not many people can hammer beautiful little follies like these out of them. Opener [b]‘Lions In Cages’[/b] sets the tone, a flamboyantly chiselled edifice built from slabs of [a]MGMT[/a]-ish electro-pop resting on pillars of Killers-style indie rock’n’roll. “[i]The city joins us with hands of grace/Hands free, there are no constraints[/i]”, promises McElligott, as the coltish, bone-rattling rocket of the chorus takes off.
Effortlessness is the name of the game, and from there on solid little pop gems are tossed off like they’re nothing, from the sweeping, romantic vista of [b]‘Something Unusual’[/b], McElligott pleading “[i]Why won’t you lay down your little heart for me?/We’d be something out of this world, never seen before[/i]”, to the strutting, Talking Heads romp of [b]‘Stay And Defend’[/b] with its vibrant belter of a chorus. [b]‘The King And All Of His Men’[/b] is a high-cheekboned glammy stomp that knows ridicule is nothing to be scared of, duelling with [a]Adam Ant[/a] on high table, while the lush, loose-hipped [b]‘Back To Back’[/b] changes pace with a moody, heartbroken depth and a seductive three-note bass line.
[b]‘Midnight Dancers’[/b] perhaps has too much fun dressing up in Bowie’s [b]‘Hunky Dory’[/b] vibes, but its gentle, organ-tickled prettiness is lovable nonetheless, McElligott imagining sepia-tinted love tableaux: “[i]Here we go again on the cobbled streets of Paris/We’ll go dancing round the square/And everyone will stop and stare at the lovers of the night[/i]”. As well as a harum-scarum momentum, the whole album, sonically midwived by Mercury Rev and [a]Flaming Lips[/a] producer Dave Fridmann, has a seductive sense of dashing romance, leaping from cloud to cloud towards some distant glittering prize with lapels flying. The spacious title track takes a piano for a weightless walk across a sunset of reverb as McElligott sagely notes, “[i]It’s hard to draw the line when you can’t see the safety net[/i]”.
[b]‘Planets’[/b] closes things in grand, psychic space-odyssey fashion through clouds of reverb and chorused vocal, with the sad acknowledgement: “[i]Suego Faults is just a dream that I’m waking up from now[/i]”. Ah, our little Fantasia is all over, and we must relucatantly return to the grim reality of Monday mornings and new Kooks albums, but it was certainly some trip. And it will be interesting to see where a talent like [a]Wolf Gang[/a]’s travels to next. Sparkling indie-pop zinging with class, energy and potential? Sounds like Shangri-La to us.