Steve Wilson. On music.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chains of Love - Strange Grey Days (Manimal Vinyl)

“Chains of Love” is a song title. I know that there are songs by Ryan Adams and Erasure by that title. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that the naming of Vancouver’s Chains of Love had nothing to do with either of those.

On the other hand the phrase ‘chains of love’ is repeated frequently in the song “Chains,” written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  It was a pretty big hit in 1962 for the Cookies. And, oh yeah, some group called the Beatles covered it on their debut album. From listening to the Chains of Love I would guess that they’ve heard Goffin and King’s tune.

The girl-group sounds of the Sixties are an oft-present influence on today’s younger musicians. And why not - it was insanely catchy, melodic music, and while it sometimes reflected more demure and submissive feminine postures, it was in its very presentation and power assertively female. As such it has become a vital resource for many young women musicians fifty years removed from the sound’s beginnings.

Perhaps most remarkable about the Chains of Love sound is that it is a modernization of the girl-group idiom without a specific agenda. Where La Sera and Frankie Rose dive back into Fifties Patti Page-isms, the Dum Dum Girls pursue an Eighties noise-punk sheen, and Cults incorporate beat box, machine music, all Chains of Love do is sound like a rock band – a rock band with a glorified demo for an album called Strange Grey Days.

The rough recording quality is not without charm, although it does shortchange the band’s most potent asset, singer Nathalia Pizarro in the mix. But even in that it succeeds in exuding a real band ethos instead of placing Pizarro apart from or ahead of the band. 

In 1969, the critical consensus was that in order for Janis Joplin to ascend to the blues-soul pantheon she needed to ditch the idiosyncratic, psychedelic blues of the Big Brother and the Holding Company. All well and good, except that with a backing band, rather than a band, her sound was generic, creating a mismatch with her more dramatically personal qualities.

The Sixties rock chops of Chains of Love are evident from the “Time of the Season” drop beat, syncopated kick off of “He’s Leaving (with me).” Here, the production ethos reminds of Tim Presley’s band White Fence - all Sixties homage, but part bedroom d.i.y. nonchalance. Striking as Pizarro's near- (Ronnie) Spectorian pipes are, she sounds, and Chains of Love sound most striking when she harmonizes with guitarist Rebecca Marie Law Gray. Between them they evoke the full complement of  Sixties female vocalists, from icons like Mary Weiss to thrilling one-hit wonders like Diane Renay. They’re sweetly aggressive on the declarative “All the Time,” guitarist (and producer) Felix Fung spinning off a stinging solo worthy of vintage Mike Bloomfield, as the band rages shades of Blondie and the Attractions.