Not long ago, Modern Lovers’ ‘Road Runner’ was nominated to be the Official Rock Song for the state of Massachusetts, for paying tribute to Jonathan Richman’s home state. It’s unlikely (but not improbable) that forty years from now, similar accolades could be heaped on Holiday Ghosts’ new album, West Bay Playroom, by Falmouth town council, Cornwall.
Shame, because it’s very good indeed.
Rolling in barely eighteen months after their debut, self-titled album, West Bay Playroom is a fine amalgam of three things: classic, garage rock influences, great songwriters who work well together (the original partnership of Sam Stacpoole and Katja Rackin, now joined by Charlie Fairbairnon on guitar and Ryan Cleave on bass), and the serendipity of having a perfectly-suited creative space in which to write and record. In fact, the old playroom in Sam Stacpoole’s childhood home in Maenporth, Cornwall lends more than just a name to this album. Basing themselves there after the closure of their previous studios in Falmouth meant that the band got to choose their own direction. “After a while, it wasn’t just that the acoustics were great, or that the room allowed us to set up and record live,” Katja Rackin explains. “It became more about the feeling of the place, and the experiences that we had there. The setting was really important.” Indeed, their picturesque Cornish town looks out onto Falmouth Bay, with beautiful views towards Pendennis Castle and the lighthouse on St Anthony Head. No wonder this album is so breezy and bright, with fingers of warm fuzziness that reach deep into your pleasure centres.
As heard in the opening track ‘Low Flying Bird’, with its “ooh wee oooh” harmonies punctuated by organ jive, the Modern Lovers comparison is an obvious one. Dig deeper, however, and there’s a whole wealth of other sounds woven into the fabric of this record, from ’60s garage, to blues and punk. The joy of it all is it’s delivered with a quirky indie twist and thick dab of sunscreen (while evoking some serious ’80s & ’90s Flying Nun nostalgia). ‘Thinking Of You’ is a slick, riff-heavy jaunt with echoes of Dandy Warhols, while ‘Slipstream’ oozes all the simple cool and charisma of early Lloyd Cole if he’d spent his formative years on golden beaches, not rainy Derbyshire. The infectiously bluesy pop of ‘BS Porsche’ is contrasted by the sharp-witted, surf-rock drama of ‘Booksmart’, and ‘The Dodger’ with its suede-lined swaggering shuffle, is distinctly Doors-y. ‘Human Race’ feels like a toned down, unplugged prototype punk song, only more polite: “I love the human race”.
With so many new angles on familiar sounds and genres, it’s apparent that Holiday Ghosts have embraced the strengths of individual songwriting differences to somehow make it fit together. In turn, West Bay Playroom is funny, emboldening, wry, sad and, moreover, a joy to listen to. What unites all the songs here is their finely-tuned attention to detail, one that you only really achieve by being completely, obsessively absorbed by something. For Holiday Ghosts, that ‘something’ may be drawing on the many hours spent listening to their (obviously extensive and tastefully curated) record collections to unlock hidden levels in an already well-stripped mine. If that’s the case, they have succeeded.
West Bay Playroom is released on 15th February, 2019 via PNKSLM