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Sad Baby Wolf, ‘Electric Sounds’ – Album Review

Sad Baby Wolf, Electric SoundsAside from contributing the occasional la-la-la and overdubbed instrument, Marty Crandall was a background player in the James Mercer-led Shins. There is no argument regarding who is in control of that band’s songwriting and direction. Crandall, along with longtime drummer Jesse Sandoval, found this out the hard way when they were let go several years ago.

We can assume, though, that this Mercer Rules All culture was less defined in the Shins precursor Flake Music, whose lone offering featured a decidedly chunkier sound, with obvious tips of the cap to 1980s and ’90s independent anti-heroes. The entire record, ‘When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return,’ seems to be an acid-washed drone, drenched in waves of distortion and reverb, a la My Bloody Valentine.

So all these years later, we’re pleasantly surprised to find Crandall back in the music mix, dipping into the formula that made the pre-Shins so likeable. Enter his new band Sad Baby Wolf. This time, Crandall gets his first lead role, with a supporting cast that includes, among others, his brother, Maury, on drums, and Flake/Shins vet Neal Langford on guitar.

Thankfully, ‘Electric Sounds’ is not an attempt at remaking a Mercer-less Shins album. In fact, Crandall is entirely his own vocalist and songwriter, and it’s fascinating to finally hear his side of the musical story. Neither his voice nor his lyrics are home runs by any stretch of the imagination, but they fit snugly in his songs. At times, Crandall’s voice is decidedly Brian Wilson-esque in the mid-range (‘Survival Guide,’ ‘Bridges,’) and Ian McCulloch-like near the bottom (‘Waking Up’), and throughout, it embodies that great slacker vibe that makes J. Mascis such a distinctive singer.

It’s clear that Crandall has not been sitting around idly, licking his wounds. He’s made a fantastic little statement here — no major-label record deal needed. (The album will be self-released). Independence has never sounded so sweet.

7 out of 10 rating

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