Album Review: The Family Rain – Under the Volcano

By on Monday, 17th February 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

The blues rock sphere of influence is but a single bubble on the Venn diagram that is The Family Rain’s full-length debut offering, ‘Under the Volcano’. However, a certain phrase springs to mind with bands that spread their influences so broadly: ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. The Bath-born blues brothers were described in a previous life as an “irony free Darkness with bare torsos and blonde highlights”, which fits neatly with their porous approach to soaking up contemporary musical influences. The key question when digesting this album, “does it blend like a fine wine, or jar like ethanol mixed with grape juice?”

‘Carnival’ is a frantically upbeat introduction, with an intricate interpretation of blues scales set within a powerful but regular rhythm from guitarist Ollie Walter. It’s a sound that sits somewhere between a Kings of Leon retrospective and a memory of The Strokes of Christmases past. Originally released as the band’s debut single back in November 2012, ‘Trust Me… I’m A Genius’ (video below) has a distinct whiff of Jack White‘s most recent release ‘Blunderbuss’, which grows to an overpowering funk as the band introduce enough bluegrass to induce some kind of psychotropic episode. It’s a somewhat soulful mix of staccato singing and multi-layered vocal melodies, with a swirling guitar solo that circles the plug hole and plops to an abrupt ending.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ29YuXbeTI[/youtube]

Somewhere, A Flock of Seagulls’ lawyers’ ears have pricked up on hearing ‘Feel Better (FRANK)’. In tone, it is the genetically deficient twin of ‘I Ran’, the most memorable track of the New Wave band’s self-titled 1982 debut. The track holds its own in the grand scheme, but also shows anomalous moments of questionable production. It’s a theme that perhaps blunts some of the sharper edges on later tracks too. ‘Don’t Waste Your Time’ is a whimsical ride back to early Noughties trip-hop that folds into ‘Reason to Die’; a typically mid-album attempt with the stripped back, garage-y, bass/vocal onus and ironic swagger of Arctic Monkeys more recent offerings. Right on cue, ‘Binocular’ reaches the high water mark of the album so far. It’s a ragtime shuffle with a cheeky bluegrass wiggle thrown in – a jaunty skip between classic blues scale and droning root note (for both guitar and throat) that wouldn’t look out of place on an seizure-inducing camera ad of a thousand colours.

The largely forgettable ‘On My Back’ aside, the musical landscape evolves yet again on ‘Pushing It’. The verses have airs of The White Stripes in their bare, pugnacious strut and sense of impending collapse, but the chorus (although catchy) attempts too much and creates a juxtaposition which does neither aspect any favours. ‘Together’ takes more from the American indie scene, and achieves a sense of continuity that isn’t always evident throughout the rest of the album. The lackadaisical intro uses a ‘lonely musical trill plus tinny radio voice’ technique seen on The Killers’ ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’, and generally follows the same upwards trajectory – albeit never to the same height and with a distinctly British aftertaste.

Tambourines and a guitar line heavily drenched in feedback give closing track ‘All the Best’ a sound that would be recognisable at regional live nights across the UK, but with a sense of bravado that lifts them high above Morrissey’s winding back alleys. William Walter’s voice possesses a neat vibrato that compliments the loose threads that hold this entire number together. It’s an honest and personal conclusion to an album that anchors itself to many poles. Ultimately, ‘Under the Volcano’ walks the tightrope of musical fusion with a wobble and occasional stumble, but never a fall.

6.5/10

‘Under the Volcano’ is out now on Vertigo Records / Virgin EMI.

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[…] dates in support of their debut album, ‘Under The Volcano’, which our own Ben reviewed here back in February. The next single from that album, ‘Don’t Waste Your Time On Me’ […]

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