Album review: SONS OF HIPPIES – Griffons At The Gates Of Heaven

Cleopatra [Release date 16.07.13]

Described as psych-space rockers, and more memorably as: ‘The Bangles on acid’, Sons of Hippies explore retro musical influences with colourful imagery and gothic moods. Their imposing wall of sound is interwoven with ominous poetic lyrics with frequently impenetrable meanings.

The band’s name is slightly misleading as female vocalist Katherine Kelly is the focal point. Much like her lyrics and co-song writer Jonas Canales’s musical input, the name is more about a feeling than anything literal. The album title juxtaposes the contrasting elements of danger and paradise and uses the same sort of literary device that lies at the heart of most of her lyrics.

The music is a mélange of psychedelic rock and surf pop, while their videos extend their imagery into the realms of the garish. It’s music with a compulsive poppy undertow in which brooding moods are intertwined with swooping phrases, majestic drones and subtly mixed vocals.  The words are an integral part of the music as much as signifier of meaning.

For a band that started out as a Florida based duo, Sons Of Hippies have taken a big step forward as a powerful trio with an album that that was recorded in their native Florida, mixed 3000 miles away in Seattle and finally mastered in Abbey Road, in London.

Perhaps a less obvious but significant influence is Jesus & The Mary Chain, who someone once said sounded as if they were recorded underwater.  Sons of Hippies rely on a similar layered and mixed back sound which is probably just as important as the songs themselves.

At times they strive for the same musical impact as Arcade Fire but without the emotional pull, as ‘Griffons At The Gates Of Heaven’ has more of a suggestive feel. The lyrics are an integral part of harmony drenched sounds that spark the listener’s imagination rather than leads them to a meaningful source.

‘Mirrorball’ is the perfect example of this conceit. The music sounds deep, brooding and intense. It has a vocal collage embedded with a Patti Smith style rap and ethereal bv’s as part of a layered sound that climaxes in a single penetrating synth line.

This is the kind of album that invites the listener to immerse themselves in the moment, rather than  analyze it. Importantly it has the musical impact and memorable turns of phrase to draw us in.  Sons of Hippies update psychedelic pop and transform it into something both palatable and memorable.

They incorporate guest musician Billy Sherwood’s brooding mellotron into a soaring vocal duet on ‘Spaceship Ride’, while ‘Man Or Moon’ mixes catchy pop rock with a guitar driven space rock crescendo. The middle part of the songs has a beautiful poetic couplet which is curiously missing from the CD booklet’s inlay, but it fits the uplifting music perfectly: ‘Everybody’s reeling, everybody’s choking everybody’s waiting, for the man to jump form moon on to the shoulders of impending doom’

The music shifts from an Amon Duul11, Kraut rock feel on ‘Forward’ to the pop sensibility of ‘Magnets’, complete with the catchy ‘I want to be in love’ refrain that carries the song to its close. Katherine Kelly engaging vocal matches her lyrical intensity: ‘When you said that there was no other way, we would be inseparable from the moment we met – you bet I believed it’.

She’s like a quirky Bjork on the guitar avalanche of ‘Man Or Moon’, an exclamatory Lene Lovitch on ‘Minute x Minute’ and indulges in a Patti Smith rap on ‘Animal Battle’.  But in keeping with the album as a whole, she changes again, sounding like Kate Bush on the breathy ‘Magnets’ and the over deliberate phrasing of the very catchy ‘Cautionary Tales’. The latter could well provide the band with real commercial success.

The trio rarely stay in one mood long enough to be pigeon holed, so while ‘Dark Daisies’ is a ponderous drone led psychedelic piece with state of consciousness lyrics, it’s followed by the poppy 3 minute single ‘Rose’ and the equally radio friendly ‘Man Or Moon’.

The bass heavy ‘Blood In The Water’ is the kind of big production number that probably justified the three geographical locations involved in the album’s making. For ‘Griffons A the Gates of Heaven sounds much bigger and denser than you would expect from a basic trio line-up.

You could argue that it’s an album that aims to nail Katherine Kelly’s cinematic vision and feel, but either way, ‘Griffons At The Gates Of Heaven’ looks a good bet to make a significant splash. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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