23 Sep 2014

Album Reviews: The Red Plastic Buddha "Songs For Mara"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Today I've got a release that is very near and dear to me : the latest album from The Red Plastic Buddha, the chief protagonist of which (Tim Ferguson) is a scribe on this very site. This being the case, I've delayed writing this review endlessly, fearing that I would struggle to remain impartial, but screw that; I asked Tim to write for me because he has excellent taste and because I enjoy the music that he creates, so it seems ridiculous that those very qualities should stop him being featured here.

"Songs For Mara" is the third album from Chicago's Red Plastic Buddha. I'll assume that you're not familiar with their first two albums, and if that is the case, you certainly should rectify that ASAP- they're excellent. Squarely centred in neo-psychedelic territory, the current line-up of the Red Plastic Buddha have a far gutsier, and much more layered sound than the recorded output from previous line-ups suggests that they had, and the added muscle suits their sound very well.

Ferguson's songs are laced with hooks, and those hooks often betray the influence of other genres, particularly "She's An Alien" and "A Girl Like You", which have glam and new wave undercurrents lurking underneath their shiny, neo-psych exteriors, with Bowieish tendencies surfacing elsewhere on the album too, notably on "Being Human". This willingness to embrace lessons learned from other genres gives Ferguson and his fellow travelers a much broader palette to paint from, and "Songs For Mara" is all the better because of it.

Don't worry - there are some nice vintage psych touches too, in the shape of some really nice mellotron, and intricate, Manzarekian organ work, which shines whenever it's given centre stage. The guitar work (some of which is courtesy of The Luck of Eden Hall's Gregory Curvey, who also provided the sleeve - clever boy!), sizzles, whether it's creating a rich latticework of textures, soaring elegantly or being subjected to ridiculous levels of whammy abuse (as heard on the garagey standout "Stuck On Zero).

Overall "Songs For Mara"shows nicely that modern psychedelia need not be a rehash of past glories, and by embracing the present as well as the past, it fits smoothly into a lineage of excellent neo-psychedelic albums stretching back to the Church's "Heyday" and beyond.

You can stream the whole album and buy it digitally below. CD and vinyl release to come in the future I'm told.

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