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Spectrals, ‘Sob Story’ – Album Review

When Spectrals — composed of U.K. brothers Louis and Will Jones — opened for the now-defunct Girls and tossed around the idea of having one of its members, JR White, produce what would become ‘Sob Story,’ it’s unlikely anyone knew this would be White’s first post-Girls project.

The fact that it is makes the record somewhat more notable, and while Spectrals probably aren’t happy Girls broke up, ‘Sob Story’ benefits from the marketing angle. Indeed, press releases lead with a quote from White, who, with one exception, has kept silent since Girls’ split.

White’s touch is easy to detect. He’s helped Spectrals achieve a clean and full sound, making the brothers’ music sound bigger than they could have on their own. Lead single ‘Milky Way’ finds Louis Jones evoking Girls frontman Christopher Owens, singing from the shallow part of his lungs, dipping into a low register without falling out of tune.

Beginning with opening cut, ‘Let Me Cave In,’ which could be mistaken for a Walkmen tune were it not so warm and poppy, Spectrals demonstrate their greatest strength and weakness, which happen to be the same thing. Jones’ songwriting style harks back to the ’60s, and while his delivery is authentic and honest and his songs are serviceable and pleasant, he don’t make a case for Spectrals as an alternative to Girls or the Walkmen. White’s ability to infuse the music with psychedelic flourishes gives ‘Sob Story’ enough of its own personality, but the listener wonders if Spectrals are in the same league as their aforementioned peers.

In another strange parallel to Girls, ‘Sob Story’ succeeds in its quiet moments. Despite its eye-roll-inducing title, ‘Friend Zone’ features heavy reverb and faint slide leads that, if not wholly original, are inviting and affecting enough to make one wish more bands were striving for a similar sound.. The title track goes a step further, as the band nods toward Americana without cribbing too heavily from yankee influences.

And Spectrals don’t need to bum the audience out to make an impact. On ‘Keep Your Magic Out Of My House,’ they manage to weave a fresh take on standard 12-bar-blues. The rigid, thick tone of the guitar’s distortion pulls the song into a three-dimensional space, proving that Spectrals, despite often sounding like other bands, can get pretty original when the stars align.

For as well as White seems to have done with the job he was hired for, Spectrals would do well to distance themselves from their competitors. Aiming for a more modern production aesthetic would be the most obvious first step.

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