Vinyl Vlog 462

Vinyl Vlog 462

Thursday, 19 November 2020
”Same Old Line” from the Same Old Line LP by The Spyrals.

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Same Old Line LP by The Spyrals. Ever wondered how much differently a record could possibly turn out when you consider the elements which went into it, reader? It might sound like a silly question, but really think about it; factor in a band’s region of origin, the tastes and sensibilities of the group’s members, the talents they have as well as the impression that they wish to leave, and the result probably isn’t too far from what you would expect – if you employ a didactic approach. Take The Spyrals, for example; formed in San Francisco and then transplanted to Los Angeles, the three-piece band clearly has a healthy love of blues and rock. The cover of Same Old Line features a dramatic black-and-white photo of the bandmembers’ faces in profile, adorned with heavy shadows.

What comparable acts does the above description call to mind? Sound like any other bands you know, reader?

To be fair, The Spyrals don’t come off sounding just like The Doors on Same Old Line, but there is more than a little of that influence about the band. There is also some understated Van Morrison-esque Soul in it, and those elements end up powering the album quite a bit – at least initially.

As soon as needle catches groove and Same Old Line’s title track opens its A-side, a heavy and thick blues inflection hits listeners so hard that, even when they’re expecting it, it may still surprise them. There’s a rough and not perfectly clear sense about the tone of Jeff Lewis’ guitar here, contrasted brilliantly with the howl of the harmonica in the song. That combination, set neatly against Michael McDougal’s thick and fuzzy bass as well as drummer Dash Borinstein’s tight, tasteful performance, lines up a sound that no one who appreciates the psyche-blues-rock sounds of the Sixties (The Doors, Them, Van Morrison and, to a slightly lesser degree, Jefferson Airplane) will be able to turn away from; it is tight, it is focused and it is a great opening cut. Of course, all of the instrumental talent in the world won’t mean anything if the vocal is trash but, here, Lewis continues the throwback thread rolled out by the instrumentation and delivers a soulful rock performance in a similar vein to Van Morrison’s work in the Sixties and Seventies, and that performance sets the spell – there are some obvious classic rock tones about “Same Old Line,” but it certainly doesn’t sound old.

The vintage, hippy rock tone set up by “Same Old Line” endures as “Don’t Turn Me Down” follows the title track and sees Lewis throw a little more heart into his performance (lines like “When I can’t stand up, when the night is almost gone/ It always takes a long time to see that smile” have just enough of a cry about them to imply that the singer/guitarist has been hurt before) and makes listeners really feel his loneliness before “In Your Room” augments the pattern by adding acoustic guitar and pushing in some moaning heartache to great effect. Here again (as is the case in each cut on Same Old Line), Lewis’ heart is the hook which is capable of pulling listeners in, but there’s also a sense of comfort which compliments the implied location of the song; it was actually recorded at Valley Village, but it feels like it could have been captured in the bedroom of one bandmember or another. It feels plush, stuffed and comfortable, somehow.

After “In Your Room” leaves listeners relaxed, “Goodbye” enters with that great harmonica tone again, which causes listeners to sit right back up at attention. In this case, the lyric sheet sort of implies that, on some days, the only thing Lewis has to write about is staring up at a cloudless sky (see “At night I sit alone/ Want to wonder why/ Look for Orion’s belt/ Up in the sky”), and it works for the context in which it appears and will definitely have all the listeners who have ever felt the same way hanging on every word, and just ready to flip the record over quickly to keep the mood up when the needle lifts.

…And the B-side absolutely starts very strongly with the epic, classic rock guitar styling of “There’s A Feeling.” There, all three members of The Spyrals go for broke and don’t hold back as they just pour themselves into their performance; the drums stomp out the rhythm while Edrich’s bass lays out a consistent pulse and Lewis throws a guitar figure similar to that of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” on top before scaling back the bombast a bit to offer lines like, “I get home, and hang my head and cry.” Some younger critics may complain and call that old school or out of touch but, for those of us who came up learning that rock sprang from the blues, this cut plays just right; it swings hard, but knows to simmer so it cooks but doesn’t burn as well. “Sympathy” doesn’t fare quite as well when the band tries to put a Neil Young and Crazy Horse spin on the proceedings (Young has always been at his best when he barely bothers to contain the tone of his guitar, and The Spyrals are just entirely too well-contained here) and the cut which follows it, “Just Won’t Break,” sees Lewis discover the limitations of his own vocal abilities [read: he pushes too hard and comes up well short of the power required to make this performance sound good –ed], but all members manage to reconvene at their established center for “Bleed” and proceed to leave all that’s left in them on the ground for listeners to observe. It’s a strong end – there’s no debating that – and listening to Lewis agonize over driving around late at night wondering what his fate in the world might be has a very hypnotic quality listeners will have no difficulty falling under the spell of. It is a fantastic close and, when the song does end, listeners may find that it is a trance from which it is very difficult to break free; listeners will want more – need more – and do anything they can to find more – even if the only option is to restart the album.

After having run through Same Old Line from front to back, a few things become perfectly self-evident about the album, in the end: first, there’s no question that The Spyrals are a very young band. They have a lot of ambition and, as a result of that, both the successes and problems with Same Old Line are impossible to ignore. Now, saying that there are problems with Same Old Line does not mean the album is a failure at all; there are a few problems with it and a couple of missteps on the way through the album’s runtime, but they are the sorts of mistakes that young bands fall prey to regularly. Given the opportunity, there’s little question whether or not The Spyrals will be able to route those out and, because of that, it will definitely be interesting to see how The Spyrals’ next album plays out. [Bill Adams]


Same Old Line is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.

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