Far more than just a spun-out, swinging 60s tribute affair.
Leonie Cooper 2012-05-08
Of course Haight-Ashbury aren’t actually from San Francisco, but it’d be more than reasonable to assume that their second album opener, Maastricht "A Treaty", was recorded live amongst the longhairs in Golden Gate Park. Lifting the patchouli oil-drenched essence of far-out musical Hair, the song unfolds as a somewhat directionless exposition of tremulous sitar while, just in the corner of your vision, a kaftan-clad Dennis Hopper does the Watusi with George Harrison. If this whole album were similarly stoned and meandering, we might take umbrage; but mercifully it’s a one-off. In fact, as a lesson in vivid scene setting, it works a treat.
Coming from Scotland rather than California, Haight-Ashbury are Kirsty Reid, Jennifer Thompson and Kirsty’s brother Scott on drums. Haight-Ashbury 2: The Ashburys follows the trio’s 2010 debut, and though it might be heavily indebted to counter-cultural, tie-dyed grooves, this isn’t just a spun-out, swinging 60s tribute from some half-baked merry pranksters.
Sophomore brings to mind those other harmonising hippies of the moment, Haim; but like those So-Cal sisters, it adds a healthy, brusque dose of a gutsy power-pop into the bargain. Tough like Pat Benatar but heartfelt and absorbed with female experience like Stevie Nicks, its heavy guitars and heavenly vocals also recall graceful grunge virtuosos The Breeders and Veruca Salt. It is, quite frankly, a blinder of a song.
These Glaswegians don’t spend the whole record stateside stargazing though. They skip the same, lavender-studded path as Smoke Fairies on the eerie 2nd Hand Rose, looking to British folk of the 1970s, of Fairport Convention, with ring-a-roses, Wicker Man vocals and a stomping glam-goth breakdown.
Haight-Ashbury’s biggest hurdle then, isn’t their nimble tunes or defiant choral stylings, but in their lyrics, which tend towards the trite. There’s a track unforgivably named Freelove and the album also harbours the clichéd call of "Thunderbolts and lightning / Very, very frightening". Elsewhere, stalking down the hypnotic lost highway of Buffalo Trace there’s even a brazen "and the beat goes on".
Such is the clout of their melodies though, that this isn’t as grating as it could be. She’s So Groovy ’86, another cringer of a title, is a track which also boasts one of the album’s most flawless choruses. It’s an indication that if they can get their words in order, Haight-Ashbury could almost certainly go places.