Better Strange

James Supercave

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Better Strange Review

by Neil Z. Yeung

Better Strange, the debut album from Echo Park, California band James Supercave, is a blissful psych-pop panoply of sounds, textures, and influences. Recorded at Fairfax Studios with producer Gus Seyffert (the Black Keys, Beck), the LP brims with ideas and succeeds in drawing upon a number of familiar flavors and presenting something wholly interesting and addictive. The rhythms and grooves that slink and pulse from Patrick Logothetti's synths and Andres Villalobos' guitar (with help from touring bassist Patrick Phillips and drummer Rhys Hastings) create warm layered atmospherics to offset frontman Joaquin Pastor's wild vocal range, which can jolt from a soft Kevin Parker (Tame Impala) falsetto lullaby to a sinister Joe Newman (Alt-J) threat. That latter influence is apparent on many of the tracks here, with Alt-J's hybrid vibe thumping through the album-opening MGMT-lite title track and the spooky cautionary tale "Chairman Gou." Elsewhere, synths twirl ("Whatever You Want" and "How to Start") and beats pulse ("Burn," "Body Monsters," and "Get Over Yourself") in a sonic twister that somehow pulls the xx, Interpol, and Muse into the existing mix. Album centerpiece "The Right Thing" is the best starting point to understand what's at work here: beginning with a jaunty pogo bop, it swirls into a wash of strings before diving into a cathartic explosion of joy at the end. If Arcade Fire went full psych, it might sound like this baroque pop gem. The latter portion of the album slows down, absorbing Radiohead's digital paranoia and spooky arrangements on "Virtually a Girl" and "With You," the latter of which sounds like a late-night coupling between Goldfrapp's Felt Mountain and Amnesiac's "You and Whose Army?" Better Strange is quite a debut: complex without being inscrutable, cerebral yet soulful, and both brittle and fully confident. Years in the making, it's a rewarding listen through time, space, and genres, revealing more with each repeat listen.

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