St Johns Wood Affair 2016 / Think Like A Key 2023
Bringing back the purple haze of long-lost innocence, English ensemble rock their plimsolls.
There’s no shortage of artists trying to capture the sound, if not the spirit, of the ’60s psychedelia, and most of them don’t fail, yet the songs they issue often sound like a pastiche – because they access the past on a cerebral, as opposed to emotional, level, while those who lived through that era had both their mind and heart affected by its paisley aura and patchouli aroma. Cue Keith Smart: born too late to be playing back then but remembering the decade well enough to be harnessing the retro vibe since the late ’70s, as a frontman of M.I.5, the veteran’s been leading ST JOHNS WOOD AFFAIR for some time now, alongside other musicians who had worked with, and borrowed their band’s name from the song by, original NIRVANA. Which is why there’s neither smell nor sense of artificiality about this album.
On the contrary, such raga-spiced pieces as “I Am You” and “Can I Buy Your Thoughts?” – that, pouring brass licks and skittles of ivories in a guitar jangle, switch from candied balladry into pop romps and back again – ooze candid love for thy neighbor from each of their pores to tune the listener’s soul onto the same wavelength as the ensemble inhabit. So, once Smart’s acidic strings elevate the cover of Sky Saxon’s “Where Is The Entrance To The Play?” before the platter’s triumphant finale of its title track and shortly after the band paid tribute to the late Seed on “Sky Forever” which proposes a lysergic groove, a warm, kaleidoscopic dream should unfold for all to share. The reverie is inescapable from the album’s very start, though, where, vocal harmonies wrapped in a hazy effect, “Electric Clouds” offers a delicate light to bask in – the sitar-tinged light “Clouds Hill” will pick up later on – but, seasoned with two raging organ solos and a bout of fretboard madness, the Fabs-influenced epic “Fantastic Book Of Colours” feels much more adventurous, dangerous even.
This is why “Love Light & Peace” fleshes out an instrumental demo, one of a smattering of bonuses here, with acoustic strum to make the cosmic mantra of its refrain truly irresistible, and the wah-wah-washed “The Tripster” grounds the entire mesmeric experience with bluesy passages. Thus, as above so below, a time warp is born to allow the audience feed their head and kick out the jams, enjoying reality and surreality alike.