The art of the album at times feels like a lost art. Sure, a talented band can piece together a collection of great songs, slap on some cool cover art and call it an album, but it won't have a beginning or an end. It doesn't have that feeling of a complete body of work. Now and then a band brings back that glorious feeling of a real, well-crafted album, which is something that Electric Soft Parade has done with No Need To Be Downhearted.
Tom and Alex White, the brothers behind ESP, have consistently released great records, but this will be the one to finally put them on the map here in the US. The former Mercury Prize nominees must have gotten the rock & roll madness out of their systems via their side project, BrakesBrakesBrakes (formerly Brakes), as their latest is a sunny pop record that simply sounds great.
The album is book ended by "No Need To Be Downhearted" Parts 1 & 2, giving the album a true start and finish. "Part 1" is a melancholy opener, with little more than piano and some very Ben Folds-esque vocals. A fuzzy bass line and some organ adds a bit of color to the track, growing as it leads into the upbeat "Life in The Back-Seat." From track to track, the brothers White repeatedly show off their masterful skill of balancing slick pop with moments of crunchy rock, which they do perfectly on the lead single, "If That's The Case, Then I Don't Know." It begins innocently enough, with a catchy guitar line and a thumping drumbeat, but when that fuzzed out guitar line kicks in right before the vocals, it is mighty tasty. The chorus has rolling keyboard arpeggios that are a bit reminiscent of early Grandaddy records, leading us back to that fat crunchy guitar line.
ESP haven't lost their touch for beautiful ballads, such as on "Shore Song." Sounding a bit like a lost Paul McCartney track, their vocal duet glides over a simple acoustic guitar with the occasional bits of synthy strings. What keeps it interesting is their knack for writing mesmerizing melodies. The track slowly fades into chiming keyboards that lead us to another sunny rocker, "Misunderstanding."
I could go on and on, but I'd rather not spoil the surprises in this album. Electric Soft Parade took their sweet time making this album, but it was well worth the wait. Fans of intelligent pop albums will want to make No Need To Be Downhearted a part of their own music libraries. Sounding like the best parts of the Beatles and Super Furry Animals, Tom and Alex White have truly delivered this time.