Casual Strangers - Casual Strangers

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2014-07-22

Casual Strangers hail from Austin, TX, which is apparently a pretty cool place with an emerging scene. I really don’t know anything more than that about the place, but Casual Strangers make it sound dusty, rugged and sexy – all good elements with which to infuse ones music. So I want to go to Austin now.

First track ‘Tune Your Brain’ isn’t as trippy as that title makes it sound, although it does feature a flange-tastic, Pink Floydian guitar solo. Instead, it sounds like Mazzy Star if they rocked a little harder, or The Wedding Present if they rocked a lot slower, or, given the band’s mix of man/woman vocals, lo-fi electronics and dry riffs, The Kills if they were less slappable.

Second track and (I’m guessing) theme song to their notional TV show, ‘Casual Strangers (We Used to be Friends)’ is based around a spoken-word bit about bumping into a former acquaintance. It’s like part II of The Teenagers’ ‘Homecoming’; everything’s stilted, awkward, sad but also a little funny. The grown-up Teenagers vibe continues on ‘Looking Good’, which features 80s-style white-funk bass and synths submerged under gritty, hard-rock guitar.

Having skirted around it a bit, Casual Strangers get properly psych-rock on the appropriately titled ‘Space Blues’, which is both very spacey and quite bluesy, and it also very good indeed. It sounds like unwitting Krautrock super-group Cosmic Jokers jamming with Jack White, which means it’s basically awesome. The following ‘Caribbean Cask’ is completely different but also excellent, an electro-Hawaiian instrumental full of lovely, ‘Albatross’-style guitar.    

Such variety is an unexpected treat, and makes one realise how many bands today are sadly either unwilling or unable to diversify their sound with such fluidity. It doesn’t all quite work, of course, but even when it doesn’t, it’s at least interesting. Witness ‘Don’t Worry About a Thing’, which sounds like Eric Clapton masturbating over a David Lynch demo while Nicholas Cage does an impression of Vincent Price over the top. Yes, that’s actually what it sounds like, and after listening to it a few times I quite like it.

Then there’s ‘Cats Meow’, which sort of sounds like a more shoegazey, gothy Breeders collaborating with a particularly lachrymose John Cale, and seems to take its lyrical cue from Gong’s slightly suspect ‘Witch's Song/I Am Your Pussy’, and the wonderfully if perplexingly titled ‘Put Your Mussy on My Mussy’, which is just straight-ahead pop-punk with gonzo riffs and almost audible pogoing.

The album wraps up with the brief ‘Casual Strangers (See You Around)’, which surprises just by being good, old-fashioned alt-rock which tugs at the heartstrings in a minor way while riffing away competently. It leaves one with the impression that Casual Strangers might not be totally sure what kind of band they are yet, but they’re certainly full of ideas, combining an impressive, sometimes bewildering glut of influences – Americana, punk, post-rock, blues-rock, The B-52s, psychedelia, 80s pop – into something which, for the most part, hangs together astonishingly well, skipping merrily between what’s cool and what’s not, what’s mainstream and leftfield.

Fuck knows what Casual Strangers will sound like on their next album, but it’ll be well worth checking it out. 

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