The dream of acid-era Beatles pop is alive in UK quartet New Electric Ride, whose debut full-length Balloon Age will be out February 25th via Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records. Balloon Age checks all the boxes: the hooks are tight, the love songs are cute, and the ear-happy vocal harmonies share spotlight with spooky, tripped-out psychedelia.
It may be pastiche, but it’s well-executed pastiche. Balloon Age‘s appealingly jumpy transitions and instrumental menagerie takes us on a whiplash-ride through the sixties, all its incense and dripping surreality. Familiar life in the exterior world gives way, when you least expect it, to the twisty tunnels inside your head. The catchiest songs on this album exhibit such skillfully laid care that it barely matters that they’re derivative; the bluesy and round-like “I Feel So Excited” stands out not for originality but for, at just under a minute long, hitting a bulls-eye with a formula so well-worn that it’s hard to compellingly pull off. Particularly on the second half of the album, New Electric Ride demonstrates not only a deep saturation in the genre but also the fresh enthusiasm they have for this kind of music, even if, to all appearances, it’s been done to death. The quartet’s loyalty lies unquestionably with songs, and the album can be best understood as a lovingly assembled collection of details and imagery.
It’s in these details that you’ll see New Electric Ride’s contemporariness. “Isn’t it mean how no one can dream about writing a submarine song anymore?” warbles the wistful chorus to “A Submarine Song.” This might be the first time I’ve been happy to discover that a band’s being meta —if they weren’t, they wouldn’t just be taking inspiration from The Beatles, they’d be flat-out ripping them off. “A Submarine Song” teems with whimsical images—including the central one—straight out of the original Submarine song, with an “I Am The Walrus” intro and a bit of “Strawberry Fields” thrown in for spice. The pervasiveness of sixties pop, the song argues, makes it difficult to return to its ideals in new music. Echoing with repetitions of the line “have you heard this tale before,” New Electric Ride pays homage to a sub-genre whose very greatness closes off its vivid imagery and singular direction to new bands.
2013 was a good year for psychedelia. It seemed like everywhere new bands with weird scale patterns and inscrutable lyrics were springing up to push their experiment in unexpected directions, as though it weren’t so much a genre as a way of looking at all kinds of music. Long, layered rock patterns jammed and droned and forewent choruses. Elsewhere, other groups, like The Entrance Band, used heady and occasionally unfriendly tendencies to explore more psychological turf, using the music as metaphor for a excavation of the depths within their heads. Either way, when it was successful, the music’s form felt like a traveling companion, on albums that could be taken as long, exploratory journeys. At the end of a good psych album, I always feel a little drained.
And that, I think, gets at what I don’t like about Balloon Age. The way that New Electric Ride employs psychedelic pop doesn’t have as much to do with their musical experience as it does the experience of the music they’re imitating. It’s not used as a vehicle on this album, it’s a recreation of how sixties groups used it as a vehicle. Or, to put it another way: it’s not a spaceship—it’s a picture of a spaceship, drawn by a really skilled portrait artist.