Release Date: Jun 18, 2013
Record label: Slumberland
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Noise Pop
Chameleonic U.K. power-poppers Spectrals—the duo of brothers Louis and Will Jones—shed the slings and arrows siblinghood might present and focus on crafting some of the most heartfelt melodic pop since Big Star on their new LP, Sob Story. The notoriously prolific Louis, having released a slew of 7-inches and singles since he began the project alone in 2009, has beefed up the production, ramped up the heartache and asked us all to come along to feel terrible and wonderful about life all at once.
After releasing an album in 2011, Bad Penny, on which he played most of the instruments, Spectrals frontman Louis Jones changes things up a bit on the follow-up, 2013's Sob Story. The Richard Formby-produced debut fell just short of success thanks to some overly clean production and songs that weren't quite there in the hooks department. This time out, Jones adds a few extra musicians, including his brother William on drums again, installs Chet "JR" White (formerly of Girls) in the producer's chair, and gives his sophisticated guitar pop a more lived-in and scruffy sound.
Spectrals' charming, straightforward 2011 debut Bad Penny was largely a family affair: Louis Jones wrote, sang, and played almost every instrument on the album, and brother Will provided the drums. The Jones brothers still make up the core of Spectrals, but new record Sob Story features a much more prominent name behind the boards: J.R. White, the bassist/producer who formerly made up one half of Girls.
When Yorkshireman Louis Jones started recording solo songs under the misleadingly plural name of Spectrals, he was helped by his diamond-in-the-dirt status: tearful, doo-wop-drenched guitar pop that fraternised with the gnarlier, punkier end of the British indie underbelly. Quite rightly, people began to notice, some slightly higher up the ladder. ‘Sob Story’, Spectrals’ wryly-titled second album, was recorded in San Francisco with erstwhile Girls member Chet ‘JR’ White; it’s more or less a full band effort, and comes replete with pedal steel (the title track) and country-rock licks (‘Limousine’).
Louis Jones sounds like a songwriter lost in time, but it'd be tough figuring out which date to punch into the flux capacitor if you wanted to send him back home. His warm licks put roots down in vintage rockabilly and country, but it's the sad sack, heart-on-his-sleeve love songs that make his music feel so old-fashioned. Perhaps it's better to look toward Jones' pub rocker influences—Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and Elvis Costello—who were picking clean the bones of rock's patriarchs in the decades before Jones was born.
The phrase “sob story” doesn’t really have much to do with being sad. It’s something you say with a slight eye-roll regarding a melodramatic diatribe that you don’t really care about, as in, “Gary, I’m not in the mood to hear some sob story about how you lost your wallet on the subway after drinking 12 LITs”. But this, Spectrals’ sophomore LP, is not that kind of sob story.
There’s hardly any shortage of nostalgic pop records these days, but Spectrals’ first proper release, the seven-track Extended Play back in 2010, was one of the better ones I’ve heard in recent years. Whether it was Louis Jones’ dulcet Yorkshire tones or his sharp ear for melody, he produced a collection of wonderfully catchy love songs, tinged with surf pop, that earned him a deal with Wichita and boded well for future releases. His first full-length, Bad Penny, served as a selection of bite-size pop jams, with a handful of real gems alongside a few tracks that didn’t really benefit from the record’s more expansive guitar work.
Spectrals have always had an ear for a melody. On debut ‘Bad Penny’, though, it was hidden behind the lo-fi recording approach like a fog-obscured view of the Yorkshire Dales. So what do they do for the follow-up? Bring in buddy Chet ‘JR’ White on production duties, of course.Just like the wonders the former Girls man worked on his own band’s transition from the ramshackle ‘Album’ to the epic ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’, here Louis Jones’ soulful croons and song craft are in the spotlight.
In these days of gimmicks and high concepts, it’s always a treat to hear an artist stick to the essence of what she/he/it does. On Sob Story, the second LP from Spectrals, Yorkshire singer/songwriter Louis Jones and his drummer brother Will don’t bother to do anything other than write good songs and play them well. The duo takes inspiration from 90s popsters like Teenage Fanclub and, more significantly, late 70s rockers like Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and Dave Edmunds, keeping the production simple, the arrangements uncomplicated and the whole affair focused on the songs and the melodies.