Review: Pugwash – The Olympus Sound
Published on April 10th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Some bands wear their influences resolutely, wholeheartedly on their sleeve, and it results in tediously unnecessary genre exercises and/or flat-out pastiche. Other bands, however, wear their influences resolutely, wholeheartedly on their sleeve, and it results in something truly wondrous and inspiring. So, what’s the difference?
Well – and please forgive the tired journalistic device of answering a question posited by one’s own self, not to mention the faux conversational deployment of ‘so’ and ‘well’ – the answer is ‘a whacking great combination of heart and songwriting ability’. On their fifth studio album The Olympus Sound, Dublin four-piece Pugwash are issuing a(nother, if you’re familiar with their prior output) testament to the endurance of long-since-established sounds and ideas as long as the baton is planted into the right pairs of hands.
Pugwash are a safe pair of hands and then some. In thrall to the greats of ’60s and ’70s harmony-pop they quite clearly are – heck, they make no secret of it – but the manner in which their majesty encompasses melody, mood and musicianship suggests that they’d sound fantastic in any era. In short: timeless.
Opener “Answers on a Postcard” is a typically laid-back stomp, if such can exist, with luscious harmonies and a sucker punch of a minor key chord change at the end of its chorus; like Jollity opener and Brian Wilson favourite “Nice to be Nice”, it’s dripping with flair, instinctive brilliance and a sunny disposition, while lines such as “calling me a masochist when really I’m a pacifist gone wild” evidence Thomas Walsh’s ever-sharp way with a lyric. There’s even a daft kazoo section to throw the miserablists off the scent early doors. Hurrah!
Walsh’s syrupy double-tracked vocals are endlessly listenable, the harmonies are spot on and the tunes juxtapose light and shade in a way all too often overlooked by ’60s sun-pop regurgitation merchants. Throw in a disorienting, dimension-adding synth line such as that on the utterly stupendous “There You Are”, and we’re talking Phantom Power-era Super Furry Animals levels of ingenuity.
Lush orchestration is introduced to the pensive, acoustic “Warmth of You”, the chorus of which shifts so suddenly into desolation that everything around it just seems to melt away, “Eleanor Rigby” style, while the fluttery, dancing strings after “such a shame that the wind doesn’t whistle a tune” is the kind of synaesthetic decoration that make a good song great, and a great one stupendous. This is stupendous.
“Fall Down” could be straight off Rubber Soul – or indeed any of A New World Record, Out of the Blue and Discovery – what with the exquisite minor-key shift wrapped around the killer line “I’m the only one here who can help with the healing”, another fantastically effective application of melancholic reflection onto the prevailing sense of sunshine; it’s a knack that Pugwash extrapolate beautifully across the album, especially when it counts on its side the likes of the frankly stunning, backwards-guitar-flaunting mini-epic “15 Kilocycle Tone”, the “ba ba ba” and major 7th chord Beach Boys-isms of “Here We Go Round Again”, the sleek ‘n’ sexy descending guitar harmonies of “Such Beauty Thrown Away”, and the elegant pastoral shuffle of “I Don’t Like It but I’ve Got to Do It”.
“See You Mine (Coda)” trots masterfully off into the sunset on a dazzling, Olivia Tremor Control-esque psych-pop bounce, before the lovely, drunken haze-evoking closer “Four Days” weans us off with wearily sighing string arrangement, downwards-tinkling ivories and hypnotically bubbling synth noises. But that’s not all; three utterly splendid bonus tracks ensue, namely the quirkily punctuated yet romantically swooping “Heal Me”, the Big Star-like “Happy Again” and the rather epic, begging-for-proper-inclusion “Waltz With Me”.
Basically, The Olympus Sound is a triumph, and with any luck it will herald a wave of well-overdue UK appreciation for this gem of a band. An early contender for album of the year, which is remarkable given how much of its strengths lie in organic properties. They’re not glamorous, they’re not fashionable, but they’re more than likely several leagues above whoever adorns the cover of this week’s NME.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!