Release Date: Jun 2, 2017
Record label: Moshi Moshi Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Opening with a snapshot of ponderous brass, the humbly emotive talent of North Wales-based musician Stephen Black - otherwise known as Sweet Baboo - becomes apparent within the first few seconds of his latest record. Drawing influence from gently tumultuous singer-songwriters like Nick Drake, Wild Imagination boasts a fine balance of joy and melancholy rarely found within your run-of-the-mill pop album. Through standout tracks such as the aptly romanticised Swallows, Black's novel sense of emotional candour is portrayed with a series of almost comic, animated blips of synth and artificial instrumentation, wrapped in layers of heartfelt lyricism: 'You fill each town with love / And disappear above'.
Welsh singer/songwriter Stephen Black returns with more of his whimsical indie pop fare on Wild Imagination, his sixth album as Sweet Baboo. It features the more refined production of 2015's The Boombox Ballads and is a response of sorts to the turmoil of events in 2016. Thinking of his two-year-old son during the making of the record, and wanting to provide some form of tonic for the times in a way that he could, he made the deliberate decision to keep things optimistic on Wild Imagination (its working title was Positive Recordings).
Cardiff-based one-man-band Stephen Black has been responsible for some of the more transcendent songs of recent times - delicate tear-jerkers about the possibilities granted by sleeper vehicles (Motorhome); stirring psych-pop odes to the joys of an outdoor backstroke (Let's Go Swimming Wild); fizzy SMiLE-esque song suites concerned with punctuality (You Got Me Time Keeping). Yet he remains a cult concern; discerning fans falling for his scruffy take on classic pop, tinker's eye for an unusual arrangement and sweet croak of a voice while mainstream audiences chuck streaming revenue at the Sheerans of the world. His latest set sees no let-up on the quality, yet feels a lot more home-made than 2015's The Boombox Ballads - all downcast synths, toy drum-machine percussion and bittersweet bleeps.
Watch the world through the window of the internet, newspapers and the TV and the planet comes across as particularly vicious and poisonous place just now. We're living through harsh, troubling times and it's not easy to deal with. Turning the TV off, running away, shutting your phone down, staying in bed - it's a tempting response. Everyone needs some respite.
There's a great deal to be said for the concept of escapism in trying times, and the basic thinking behind Stephen Black's sixth album under his Sweet Baboo moniker is admirable. The near-constant turbulence of 2016's news cycle had him pining for a more optimistic emotional palette, especially given that his fears for the future were being amplified by the understandable paternal desire to protect his young son from the world around him. Accordingly, 'Wild Imagination' is a paean to positivity, tentative in places, buoyant in others, but with all of the songs united by a single thread of finding joy in little things, with ideas of travel and home being a particularly prevalent themes that are ultimately less opposed than you might expect.