Strawberry Hill 2022
From Rainbow Bridge to Golden Gate, a brace of songwriters bring brilliant tunes over many a gap to reach the right audience.
Despite their steady presence on the dream-pop scene for the last two decades, this duo seem to have a hard time establishing Raj Ramayya and Brett Boyd’s sunshiny psychedelia on the shaky Californian ground – but only because there are other groups with the same Leonard Cohen-inspired name, as the music the location-shifting pair produce is truly arresting. Deceptively centered on the city the longtime friends call their home now, it in fact demonstrates a much wider reach – or deeper, given the way the ten songs on display feel for one’s soul to pull the listener’s inner strings into the caress of the little combo’s silky orchestra. Still, their pieces charm and enchant even when arrangements come stripped down – in the most natural manner.
That’s why the platter opens with “Breathing” – what can sound more natural than respiration whose diaphanous slides and hazy riffs entail a rapturous gasp especially when initial aural onslaught should send the audience checking their headphones and headspace? – and sort-of closes with “Child” whose soft, piano-sprinkled lines will pacify a worried mind. So don’t mistake the old, Tokyo-recorded demo of “Indian Cowboy” which is appended to the album for a mere bonus track: rather, its mélange of Western spaghetti and raga is a further, and final, evidence of wide-eye innocence this offering is infused with – enough to make the band’s self-image as purveyors of “Indian-influenced electro-acoustic alternative rock” ring true. Ring true to the effect of “No Pain” prefacing its ska-kissed cinematic sweetness by a solid groove and a bit of rap, and the simple rhythm behind the jangly “I Will Always Be There” betraying the ’60s prototype.
Yet, of course, with the magnificent “Stars Above” emerging as a Spectoresque cross between “Be My Baby” and “(Just Like) Starting Over” and the album’s titular number as a guitar-rolled “All The Young Dudes” descendant, it’s the spirits of a certain Beatle and Bowie that spread their wings over this record’s urban horizon, although “The Day John Lennon Died” which ties the time and place in a singular knot is quite dry and bleak, the cut’s riveting lyrics and contemporary sonics notwithstanding. But then, there’s the effervescent “The Best Thing” to quietly ruminate on existential joys and the sitar-splashed and surreal, mantra-like and mesmeric “Blinding Sun” to rave about the pleasures of life. The life-affirming pleasures one can’t ignore.