Album Review: San Cisco – ‘Gracetown’

San Cisco's "Gracetown", painting by Pete Matulich

The Breakdown

A joy from start to end with a beautifully dark underbelly.
Embassy of Music

I need to give full disclosure straight away here. I love San Cisco. My love affair began back in Barcelona last August when their infectious “Awkward” was on heavy rotation on my hotel music channel and it’s only grown stronger in the months between.

I’d barely got to grips with enjoying their debut eponymous album when I learned they had new material (previewed here) and sure enough, their second album “Gracetown” had its UK release this week. It’s been a busy few weeks for the band, overseeing the album’s release in their native Australia where it shot to #2 in the charts and making sure their loyal fans in Europe and the US are also have the sophomore release on their radio. It’s also been a hectic week for me as I sat down to enjoy, then review their album ahead of their only UK date in London (10/04/15). Finding myself promoted from just gig attender to media guest list and then invited to interview the band’s lead singer Jordi, I found myself not just enjoying the album, but also analysing it in a way I previously wouldn’t have thought to. The fact I love the band (hence the full disclosure earlier) made it slightly tricky to review their album and gig and conduct the review without coming across as a giggling fan-girl.

The album begins boldly with the breathy “Run” and as a statement of intent for the album, it’s a bold one. Things I expect from the band are a mixture of jangly radio-friendly guitar pop, synthy retro 80s basslines, nicely complementing vocals from both Jordi and powerhouse drummer cum joint-lead-singer Scarlett and lyrics which tell the minutiae of love’s bigger story from longing to be with someone through to the need to be away from them. “Run” delivers on these expectations and before you’ve a moment to catch your breath after Jordi’s sexually breathy vocals, the follow-up single “Too Much Time Together” kicks in. This is more of the summery jaunty surf pop which draws comparisons to Vampire Weekend and the Kooks and despite its upbeat vibes, is incredibly downbeat lyrically as it laments the loss of individuality which a smothering relationship brings.
The sexy breathiness continues in “Magic”, which sees Scarlett on lead vocal duties over sun-tinged guitars and squelchy synths and then the album fully embraces its 80s cool vibe with tracks which wouldn’t sound out of place on a decidedly cool soundtrack like Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” or “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” such as “Snow” (a downbeat, late-night driving anthem about missing home), “About You” (a pounding, twinkly has-to-be-a-future-single track about blame during a break-up) and “Just a Minute” (a laid back, Mtume meets Metronomy epic which would accompany driving a suitably 80s vehicle on a deserted highway).

That’s not to say the album is all about the retro vibe or pigeon-holed into one genre. As Jordi himself agreed, their music doesn’t attempt to fit into one particular style; they just write songs the way they want and see what happens at the end. “Wash it All Away” is strutting guitar pop, “Bitter Winter” is a bouncy video game theme, “Super Slow” is a full on sexy R’n’B anthem which R Kelly wouldn’t shy away from, “Jealousy” is a sleazy early 90s soul and “Skool” is a sweet, honest indie love song which sounds like it’s about to turn into the New Seekers at any moment (in a good way!). On tracks like “Mistakes”, the comparisons with Vampire Weekend are obvious to make, but not for the uptempo guitar sorcery, more for the warm, arms-in-the-air, feel of tracks like “Step”.

This might sound like the album is lurching from one genre to another haphazardly, but it certainly never feels that way. Throughout the album are woven the true-life lyrics, insanely catchy riffs and lyrics (the fact the crowd were singing along at their gig to brand new tracks shows both fan loyalty and also how to write a future hit!) and a great sense of fun, even in the face of the often slightly downbeat content. Even the bonus iTunes track “Flashbang” (all Basement Jaxx sass) doesn’t feel out of place despite Jordi’s reservations in its inclusion.

For a band barely out of their teens, only on their second album and still on the verge of global success, “Gracetown” is mightily impressive and showcases their talent as both songwriters and performers to a tee. A joy from start to end with a beautifully dark underbelly.

Follow San Cisco on Facebook, Twitter and check out the band’s website for more details.

Previous DVD Review: What We Do In The Shadows
Next Live Review: San Cisco, The Dome Tufnell Park, London, 9th April 2015

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