The Amazing - Ambulance

by Jeff Penczak Rating:9 Release Date:2016-07-22

The fifth album from this Swedish supergroup continues some of the doom and gloom of last year’s excellent Picture You while continuing to mine the fertile, laidback, druggy Laurel Canyonesque West Coast psychedelia that drew us into their sphere of influences back in 2009. Majestic piano and pummeling drums drive the title track through a haze of their trademark luxurious harmonies (like a 21st century America), although frontman Christopher Gunrup’s (English) vocals can still be a little difficult to decipher. Their three guitar lineup shines on the shimmering ‘Divide’, with Gunrup’s lazy vocals once again pulling off that dreamy Mark Kozelek ennui.

‘Blair Drager’ suffers from that fatal case of drum-itis overdose that too many bands seem to succumb to these days: burying a perfectly good (in this case, funky) tune under a barrage of drum kits and boring, front-and-center solos that completely overwhelm the track under a hail of boom-chicka-boom. But ‘Tracks’ saves the day – a vintage Amazing (and amazingly vintage) Neil Young/Crazy Horse dreamaway harking, lovingly, back to extended workouts like ‘Cortez The Killer’, ‘Down By The River’, and the like. Now THIS is what we come to expect from an Amazing record and the lads don’t disappoint. Still, Gunrup is going to have to enunciate better if we’re to decide whether this refers to the “H” bomb, railroads, or race cars...or songs on an album!

‘Floating’ is getting a lot of press, wondering if that isn’t the Koz himself guest vocalling (and the tune doesn’t live up to its title), but it is a sweet charmer and one of the poppiest (read: accessible), er, tracks here. I hear a hit single in the offing that could garner the band access to the wider audience they deserve (even if it isn’t really indicative of their sound, but isn’t that usually the case?) And speaking of Mr. Kozelek, ‘Through City Lights’ is vintage Red House Painters (so much so, that you can even hear one of the band members chuckling before Gunrup finishes the first verse!). But Mark’s been getting kinda ornery these days, so this lazy, hazy headswayer will be a tonic for the troops too, um, lazy to dig out Down Colorful Hill. And what a fine tribute it is. If you close your eyes, it’s 1992-3 all over again and we’re sitting crosslegged on the floor, arguing whether “Bridge” or “Rollercoaster” was the better album. And ‘Moments Like These’ and ‘Perfect Day For Shrimp’ are more of the same.

For musicologists to whom these things matter, there is a subtle, but noticeable difference between Kozolek’s Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon personas/alter egos. A kindler, gentler side walks through those first three RHP albums; albums that some argue are not only Kozelek’s best, but amongst the best trio of albums released in the ‘90s. So the decision to exhume the phoenix and carry the torch fits in perfectly with the oeuvre that The Amazing have graced us with for the past decade. And if this review ended up sounding like it was more about Mark Kozelek than Chris Gunrop and his buddies, then perhaps the namedropping will at least entice a few more people to check them out. For despite a little sidestep with the drumkit early on, this is among the best set of quality tunes I’ve heard all year and any “cheating” to bring in a few more fans seems warranted.

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