It may not be the future, but Soviet League’s debut is mind-blowing nonetheless.
Despite their retronym, this duo of Los Angeles’ Spaceland dwellers Ben Eshbach (The Sugarplastic) and Matthew Kelly (The Autumns) has produced something new and different, although it is not without antecedents. Sonically, they occupy the narrow space between XTC and their psychedelic alteregos The Dukes of Stratosphear, or they might be Grandaddy’s hip bone connected to the late Head of Femur.
The overall effect of Soviet League’s debut is extraordinary. It demands to be broadcast from speakers strapped to a hang glider whilst leaping from an alpine peak.
These guys aren’t just whistling in the dark—they’re whistling with alarming frequency, but it’s used as an instrument, not a gimmick (NB: Peter Bjorn and John, Edward Sharpe, Axl Rose, et al.). It’s also easier to whistle than play the saw or theremin, and has as much musical value. In particular the whistling echoes XTC’s “Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)” or “Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down.”
“Shylight” has enough reverberations of “The Somnambulist,” (as collected on XTC’s Waxworks/Beeswax) to induce actual sleep (but pleasantly so; it’s chipper but eerie, in a “Twin Peaks” vein) and “Keep Sleeping” functions as a ’50s doo-wop style reprise. If the holy quirk triumvirate of Brian Eno, David Byrne and David Lynch heard these hauntingly familiar compositions filtered through the vocals of Roy Orbison and the atmosphere of Annie Lennox, there would not be a closed jaw amongst them.
Once the record hits its stride and brings the rock guitar/bass/drums/piano(?) tropes of “The Mirror,” there is no doubt Eshbach and Kelly can pull out the proverbial stops—and no superlatives can capture the moment.
In contrast,“The Owl” is reminiscent of Andy Partridge in a palm tree, juxtaposing Beach Boys-inspired vocal harmonies with a guitar solo lifted from a luau (although the lyrics veer a tad close to “Flight of the Conchords”). “Girl” could have been a lost track from Smile with its jingle bell rhythms, vibe accents and ascending and descending keyboard parts, and the concluding cut “Holiday” begins with a stripped down guitar strum before launching back into the vast, lush sprawl of the ride.
With music this dense, it’s hard to get to the bottom of what it’s all about, but there is a creepy undercurrent— for example, “I’m Going To Find You” serves as the best stalker anthem since Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart.”
The overall effect of Soviet League’s debut is extraordinary. It demands to be broadcast from speakers strapped to a hang glider whilst leaping from an alpine peak. They have produced something much greater than a collection of influences, but if Phil Spector had produced Orbison singing with Fleet Foxes backed by the rhythm section of Cake with an orchestral score by Van Dyke Parks, it would sound not entirely unlike this.
It would be a shame if this record flew under the radar of the rest of the press, as it deserves top ten of 2010 consideration. Here’s hoping Soviet League does not become the next lost rock classic.
- The Mirror
- The Owl
- All The Sailors Wave Goodbye
- Nurse Down
- I’m Going To Find You
- Keep Sleeping
- Holiday Game