For some unexplainable reason, the sounds of the 70s live in my head in the form of a muscle car lazily driving by the FDR East River Drive, blasting power pop ballads that border into chamber pop. You know ’em: pianos, a little bit of distortion, voices full of yearning and an easy going drum and bass combo.
So, when Strange Range‘s opener ‘Whip’ started with the decisively Player style bass and a wall of guitars followed, I knew I was in for an 1973 Impala Coupe-style ride. The City And Horses are a relatively new band (this is their album) and while there’s that love for 70s harmonies, there is not a single track that comes as aping too much from that rather good decade.
Quirkiness is one of the many surnames The City and Horses have (another one is McChingón) and this comes off perfectly in the sweet ’17’, with its reminiscence of “The sweetest little thing that I’ve ever seen / was you smoking weed at seventeen” and remarks about beach trips, straight edge and all the little mementos that make a slice of life story memorable. Besides, when you have a song called ‘Kawaii dance’, you know the artists embrace their quirkiness like a badge of cool.
But, like that episode of Mythbusters, is this badge of cool bulletproof? Mileage may vary and the more Gargamel-like will and should probably stay away from Strange Range, as it is a collection of sweet (but never saccharinic) songs. But if you enjoy well-made, easy going music, there’s more in this collection. ‘Pretty pretty’ has a Latin vibe, with its peppering of guiro and claves and ‘Slave’ is a tribalesque surf song, missing just a few vocal harmonies and cans of Hawaiian Punch to make it perfect.
Now, don’t think this is a funkathon, as the 70s also had a scene called alt-country, which mixed the elements of free range country with the acerbic observations of rock. ‘Strange Range’, ‘My strange ways’ and ‘All of these things’ are forays into this genre. Some songs experiment with pop electronics, like the dancey ‘Re-inking’ and the out-there mad ‘Kawaii dance’.
It’s easy to dial home to any decade past and copy the blueprints of what constituted hits back then. It takes a proper musical scientist to distill the essence after thoroughly stage-digesting musical samples. What The City and Horses accomplish in Strange Range is a master thesis in 70s music without losing an ounce of originality.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López