Published Sep 07, 2016The obviously Californian Allah-Las work with the same palette of burnt sienna, golden tones and honeyed hues on record number three, Calico Review. The album continues to touch on the sounds of their favourite decade, the '60s, following the sun-kissed journey through the desert of their eponymously titled debut and their western-tinged followup, Worship the Sun.
The Allah-Las — a collective of former employees of the record store, Amoeba Records — are traditionalists. They put together Calico Review at Los Angeles' Valentine Recording Studios, which has remained aesthetically untouched since 1979 and can be credited for this record's warmth and the proverbial yellowing around every song's edge. They're also nostalgists; a feeling of saudade permeates the songs here, which mine '60s garage and rock bands and toes the line between mimicry and homage but never verges on bland or overdone. That's not to say there's no experimentation here: mellotron, harpsichord and more organs make appearances throughout.
The sneaking "Strange Heat" centres on a steady drum heartbeat and sets the balmy atmosphere; "High & Dry" and "Satisfied" feel very much like Kinks tunes (though lead vocalist Miles Michaud's vocals sound a tad more lackadaisical than they should on the latter); "Autumn Dawn" has those classic Allah-Las extended vocal harmonies; "Could Be You" is a little "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and a little Velvet Underground.
Indeed, there are plenty of highlights here — to continue, "Roadside Memorial" has a marvellous guitar counter melody and jaunty beat, while "Warmed Kippers" is fun, booming and buzzy — and yet the feeling and heart that the band's debut had, that managed to seep over into Worship the Sun, isn't quite present. A number of these tunes sound a tad uninspired, and there's no defining theme that keeping it all together. The band have their California sound down to a science, having perfected every ingredient to find the winning recipe, but it feels a little too professional, too stale and pale in comparison to their bronzed and brilliant debut. Allah-Las felt effortless; Calico feels a little put on.
Calico Review rides slow and steady into the sunset, but falters just a tad with the underwhelming "Famous Phone Figure," which feels a little too simple, and "200 South La Brea," which feels a little too forced in its storytelling delivery. Calico Review may leave the listener feeling a little parched, too, as it doesn't paint as bright and stirring a picture as either of its predecessors.
Finally, it's a downright shame that there isn't a single instrumental to be found here, as that is something that the Allah-Las have excelled at in the past (the brilliant and blazing "Sacred Sands" and mellow cruiser "Ela Navega" from their debut, or "Yemeni Jade" and their cover of the Frantics' "No Werewolf" off of Worship the Sun are definite delights). Honestly boys, put out a record of strictly instrumentals and you'll have us all enamoured. (Mexican Summer)