Dean Hodge reviews the eponymous debut album by Cardiff R’n’B fusion band Baby Queens (released through Strangetown Records on 28 October 2016).
Tracklisting: Tired Of Love/Melodi/Had My Heart/Hear Me/You And I/By The River/It Feels Like/Forever/Spiritualize/Unite/Red Light/Samsara
Having followed them for a lengthy period of time and thrown around the lofty words ‘long-awaited album’ in much of my previous reviews, it comes as a massive relief to be able to finally review an actual album by Cardiff’s Baby Queens – the female five-piece who serve up a hypnotic and harmonious aural cocktail that is shaken and stirred with R’n’B-infused pop melodies and garage rock-imbued hooks.
The Welsh quintet can pose a two-edged sword to any music journalist or press figure. On one hand, you would need a list longer than your arm for the myriad of genres the band could justifiably fit into with petite ease. But it poses something of a quandary on how exactly to articulate or market their sound within one genre or within a single tagline. Additionally, it is just as much of a challenge in how to thread together the numerous stitches of the band’s sound into a cohesive whole, and capture the raw energy of their live sound onto record. This is perhaps an obvious factor as to the why the wait for a debut album has dragged on for what seems like an infinite amount of time. At least it has so in the eyes of many of their fans – or their ‘New-Jack Army’ if that could be considered a suitable royalty-inspired nickname for their fan club – who have been licking their lips over the prospect of a full-length album by the five-piece.
Not content with just putting out sub-standard recordings of the music that they have been pouring their heart and soul into writing while balancing day-to-day jobs, the band take a decidedly more meticulous approach. For them, the production should be just as important, and just as emotionally ambitious, as the songs themselves. Additionally, so much can happen within the realms of life and love in the space of a couple of years, that can only serve to enlighten and enrich the creative nous.
Such a sentiment is echoed in the opening track Tired Of Love – a cathartic paean to a relationship on its last legs, with melodies and vocals that act as balm to the soul. A song which has long been a staple of their live sets, the emotional scope of the song is realised brilliantly by the production – courtesy of Super Furry Animals alumni and Strangetown head honcho Cian Ciarán – which reflects how much the band have evolved in their sound. Cian’s maverick sonic touch is the perfect match for their eclectic sound.
It only takes a few seconds for the dreamlike hook and heaven-bound harmonies of Melodi to worm its way into your synapses. The track is a hypnotic musical carousel of 60’s doo-wop grooves, 70’s funk-derived guitar licks and 90’s R’n’B vocals that takes the listener on a ride and simply refuses to let you off. The throwback 70’s style front cover art that the album comes packaged in only adds to the scent of nostalgia which envelopes their sound.
You think you have the band nailed down at this point – girl-band harmonies emboldened with indie swagger – only for the jagged riffs and fearless genre-meshing of Had My Heart and Hear Me to knock you sideways. Hear Me, in particular, sounds like Oasis covering disco and possesses a riff so suave it would make Stereophonics frontman Kelly Jones bow in approval. It shouldn’t really work with the girl-band harmonies the band lace over it, yet what results out of this union is a perfect marriage of opposites.
Such words can apply to the soulful 60’s Motown-coated number You and I and It Feels Like – with its infectious riff underpinned by a doo-wop style backbeat and a husky vocal turn by Ruth Vibes. Her emotive vocal performance springs to mind Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill to name a few – the melody itself evoking shades of You Know I’m No Good and Doo Wop (That Thing) respectively – and you can almost hear the ghosts of Stax soul artists of the past within the track.
Both You and I and It Feels Like, in particular, showcase eloquently the impressive vocal ranges the group are capable of spanning. While the band each have their own individual styles and strengths, and are vocally dynamic in their own way, what occurs out of this meeting of musical minds transcends the sum of its parts.
Probably my personal favourite is the gospel-infused ballad By The River. Its mesmerising vocals and stirring harmonies are barely held aloft by a shimmering Rolling Stones-esque guitar riff – similar in style to The Beatles‘ 1968 track Don’t Let Me Down.
While much of the more hook-driven tracks are positioned at the front of the tracklist, as the record goes on, the tracks start to lean towards the more progressive side of the band. Situated in the penultimate slot is a track that contrastingly marks something of a starting point of the band. It is the staccato melody of Red Light that arguably first caught the ears of the public and marked the Welsh five-piece as a band with serious potential. Both sides of the band are on show here – with their ability to fearless explore other genres, matched with their knack for gluing them together with an inescapable central hook. It has the majesty and mystery of a James Bond opening theme song – albeit if Bond was directed by Quentin Tarantino, with a score composed by Ennio Morricone and a hip-hop arrangement.
It segues impeccably into the album’s curtain closer Samsara – a psychedelic dream-pop dirge topped off by the seductive vocals of Estelle Ios.
It would certainly be an injustice to label Baby Queens as merely a girl band. Their music defies any connotations with the ‘girl-band’ tag. Simply put, Baby Queens are merely a band (a rather good one too) that just happens to be made up solely of women, who just happen to write their own music and play guitars. But with the likes of Little Mix seemingly hailed as the modern poster-girls of the ‘girl-band’ genre, if Baby Queens could be called the movement’s saviours, or the ‘anti-thesis’ of manufactured reality show-conceived groups, that can’t be a bad thing.
The greatest strength of the self-titled debut album by Baby Queens is their ability to break down walls between genre and time, and allow their myriad of influences to exist together in harmony. It is just as much a testament to the power of music to unite – and when such a message is filtered through the type of purifying vocals these ladies are capable of, it couldn’t be conveyed any better.
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