The 60’s were great weren’t they? Filled with drugs, Bloody Sundays and the Vietnam War. Alright. Maybe the 60’s weren’t all that brilliant, the official OneMetal score for the 60s would probably only be two stars; so officially Hellfest 2014’s Saturday performances are better than the entire 60s. Well done them. But one thing that was good in the 60’s, was the psychedelic music that influenced generations after and many generations to come. It is here we find American-Swedish-French quartet Blues Pills and their eponymous debut album: Blues Pills.
It is often difficult for a retro-revival band who seeks to imitate the aesthetic of an earlier age of music style, where often the greatest pitfall that bands fall in is that the music becomes just imitation. I can happily report that Blues Pills manages to rise above mere imitation and defines itself as its own entity, and not just a pastiche of 60s tropes and conventions. For every 60s blues infused familiarity there follows a character and feel that is distinct to Blues Pills. The Doors are The Doors, Jefferson Airplane are Jefferson Airplane and Blue Pills are Blue Pills. Not literally, for actual pills, airplanes and doors to play instruments and sing would be a horrific malformation of the ideals that keep us together as a society and would lead to mass death.
Blues Pills is strongest when its hooks, which are plentiful and varied, give way to experimental flourishes that showcase the best of the band’s psychedelic influences; but these flourishes never overstay their welcome or compromise the song structure. This is in part to a fine vocal performance by vocalist Elin Larsson, which anchors the entire album and gives it the consistency that it exudes. Whilst she doesn’t exhibit a varied vocal style or wide range, what is there is a fantastically consistent vocal delivery that characterizes the album as much as the instrumentation. Her vocal delivery is tinged with intrigue and can switch between a world weary stream and a powerful cascade intermittently between tracks. Perhaps her strongest, or at least most affecting, vocal performance comes within closing track ‘Little Sun’ where her rising cadence and sultry tone tells as much about the song as the lyrics themselves.
The album does have some downfalls however, and it is not a perfect debut. These come in the form of tracks five and six, ‘River’ and ‘No Hope Left For Me’. Whilst the album as a whole maintains its own identity, it is with these tracks that this characterization loses its consistency. It is unfortunate that these tracks are located adjacently to each other, for both hold the same flaw of losing the psychedelic intensity of other tracks whilst the Ballard-like form loses the unique character of the dialectic between the vocals and instrumentation. They just sound like blues songs. This is a shame as the similar album closer ‘Little Sun’ works far better and I hope that Blues Pills will take that form as an example to expand upon.
As far as song highlights go, there are many. Lead single ‘High Class Women’ gives the album a running start with an anthemic mission statement which is later reprised by the later track ‘Devil Man’, which works at a similar pace and is a track which is destined to be a highlight live. But it is the double-barrelled follow-up of ‘Ain’t No Change’ and ‘Jupiter’ that shows the band at its full potential, with a pace that is defined by two cutting riffs that compliment the vocal delivery, giving the song its character. The whole album dynamically twists and turns but is almost always distinctly Blues Pills, which is a very encouraging start for a new band.