THEY came rushing off the Wirral back in 2002 – was it really that long ago now? – with the woozy and seductive psych shanties of “Dreaming Of You” and “Spanish Main”, brimming with swagger and confidence like a young Stone Roses. They knew they were good.
Since then The Coral, its side projects and alumni have become an ever-appreciated mainstay of the British guitar scene; Bill Ryder-Jones has launched off on his own, slightly more Pavementy solo excursion, bringing us gems such as “Two To Birkenhead”.
And now for only the second time since that first album slid into our heads way back 18 years ago, The Coral’s drummer Ian Skelly has stood up from his drummer’s stool, stretched, and decided on a little me-time with beguiling new set Drifter’s Skyline.
His previous full-lengther, Cut From A Star, came out in 2012 and brought us deep and even occasionally dubby, even eerie, psych-folk-pop ventures. Don’t even think of going looking for the vinyl at the moment unless your wallet bulges fat and contented as a market day farmer’s. It don’t come cheap, I tells ya.
Which is even more reason to get in early on Drifter’s Skyline, another venture out from behind the tom-toms with what is a pretty damn consummate set of songwriting chops.
The album was trailed back in June by single “Captain Caveman”, which we had a peek at here. It’s laidback and beach-blissed, rolling in like a breaker on an aquatic guitar line over which Ian uncoils some scatting, Burrito Brothers-namechecking lyricism, which you can check out in the pop-culture montage video below.
He said of the single: “It came from an instrumental … I threw some tongue-in-cheek, bubble-gum lyrics on it. It’s inspired by a mate of The Coral’s, Steve Adj, who’d be messing around in hotel rooms on tour, churning out these daft ‘dooby-dah’ songs.”
Prolific songwriter that he is, Ian decided to forget the finessing but sometimes magic-diluting demo phase and let it flow to tape, let it happen. So where “Captain Caveman” opens the album, it’s “Over The Moon” we head next, a none-more-optimistic country number which Gram could’ve got behind: it’s gonna work out fine, “it’s only a matter of time”.
“Joker Man” again has that gently acid-rhinestone vibe, unfolding in call-and-response harmony. Ian seems to be calling and resolving past issues: “Father, believe me / You could not change the way I feel”. But despite intimate subject matter, the lazy, palm-tree rhythms bring a Van Dyke Parks-like mercurial uplift.
“Laugh To Keep From Crying” has a real mushroomy wooze, as if MGMT or Animal Collective had discovered their inner Nashville. It beats on a heart of slide guitar, but the colours bleed and track at the edges with a glimmering organ and spacey electronics. By contrast, “Thoughts Of You” is a delicate, almost European 60s’ pop number, breathing the same high-altitude air as The Byrds’ early gem “The Airport Song”.
“Drifter’s Skyline” has a bit of the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints” baroque organ wonderment. There’s blurry, exotic happenings within. He’s looking for “somewhere we / Can both be free”. You can see wide eyes and incense smoke curling.
“Spirit Plane” seems to come from that blues-psych tradition that Messrs Manzerek and Morrison ran away with, but there’s a British edge that pulls it back from overt indebtedness. “Lady In Comus” is a reference, surely, to that acid-horror-folk combo of the early 1970s; the lyrics certainly seems to reprise their witchy themes. More than any other track on the album, “Lady In Comus” seems to approach the The Coral’s particular brand of melodicism, especially in the reprise.
Closer “Wake The World” is perhaps the most deeply and unapologetically psych number on the album, with even a rawer ‘71/’72 glamminess in the metronomic guitar rhythm, pushing the track on. Vocals rise through the phasing fuzz; a smattering of mooginess dit-dots the high end. There may be the suspicion of a mellotron at points, and the cloudy proto-hard psych of “Blue Jay Way”.
As an album, it has more sarsapirilla, perhaps, than Cut From A Star’s peyote; a very fine, bottle-green suede jacket over the former’s mirror held on the corner of Haight and Ashbury. But there some gorgeous, carefree, country-psych melodicism in here, and some bright rainbow coloured shoals weaving in and out of the coral.
It is promised that Ian’s social media will come to life in the countdown to the release date, offering something unexpected over consecutive days. Get y’self over there and be ready to be driftin’.
Ian Skelly’s Drifter’s Skyline will be released on digital and vinyl formats this Friday, July 31st. Order yours here.