San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls have been invariably described as “psychedelic” or “garage” rock in many quarters since their inception five years ago. Maybe a handful of songs back this up, but with Animal Races, their third full length release, they have unleashed their inner sixties pop idol on the world. It suits them. If the band invented a time machine which transported them back to 1967, their sound would slot effortlessly in with the West Coast jams of the period. This is never more accurately reflected than on ‘Sundial‘, a warm, Byrdsian jangle that conjures up sun, sea and surf in a thousand colourful plastic buckets, even if its melody DOES sound suspiciously like The Beatles‘ ‘If I Needed Someone‘.
That whole ‘psyche’ thing does rear its head on ‘Time Capsule‘, a song which takes several listens to sink in, but the odd thing is, once it DOES make its presence felt, you realise that it sounds rather like two Supergrass songs rolled together, namely ‘She’s So Loose‘ and ‘Mary‘, which is perhaps a tad surprising. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course, Supergrass were a fine band. Some of the midpoint songs tend to plod a little, but once again they improve the more you play them, before you get to the gleefully explosive ‘Brown Bag‘, two minutes and forty three seconds of pure filth fuzz, after which there is no let up. Cool Ghouls have clearly left to the best until last.
That’s not to say there is anything wrong with the belly of the beast, far from it, the likes of ‘Days‘ owing more than a passing acknowledgment to the songwriting prowess of Brian Wilson, or the easy country ramble of the Jayhawks like ‘The Man‘. It’s all very pleasant; it’s just that Cool Ghouls are at their sharpest when the trails they are a-blazin’ and the beers they are a-flowing, which leads us nicely back to ‘Brown Bag‘. After this comes the mighty ‘Never You Mind‘, a relentless 90mph cruise down an empty highway, and ‘Material Love‘, arguably the best track here, harking back to the best, most infectious Nuggets-like bastions of the flower power generation.
If Animal Races began with the confident swagger of a band who knows they’ve written a killer title track, ‘Spectator‘, which completes proceedings, is a cheeky wink that says “Yeah, we’re well aware that this is a fine album, but just you wait until the next album – you ain’t heard NOTHING yet.”
That just about sums it up – Cool Ghouls haven’t really suffered from that “difficult second or third album slump” which has been persistently scratched at the psyches of some of the greatest artists in living memory, and while Animal Races is a fine enough album in itself, you can’t help feeling that the best is yet to come.
‘Animal Races’ is released on 19th August 2016 through Melodic.