There seems to be a Nico revival going on this year. Bands like Haunted Hearts and, to an extent, Linda Perhacs all feature the ethereal psych-folk qualities that defined counterculture music in the 1960s.
Gulp follows a similar line, and even the promotional photos on their website feature the same thousand-yard stare from being constantly high for the past nine hours and images projected on their faces from some Exploding Plastic Inevitable reel.
It’s an old trend, but one that pops up every decade to the delight of some and the jaded chagrin of others. Again, Gulp is no different in this respect, offering little to a genre that has little room for expansion or notice past the aforementioned classics, but their debut release Season Sun is certainly one that will appeal to those fans of hash-induced haze and sexy rolls that never end.
Gulp is a duo of Guto Pryce from Super Furry Animals and Lindsey Leven, the latter of which makes her full-length recording debut on Season Sun (other than a few collaborations). They’re joined by Gid Goundrey on guitar and Gwion Llewelyn on percussion as studio and touring members. Leven is the primary singer; again, her voice carries the soft yet extremely sensual vibe that made Nico the equivalent of a Merry Pranksters pin-up girl. Pryce’s sonic contribution is primarily evoking a dreamy atmosphere via whirring keyboards and disaffected background vocals.
The lyrics play on counterculture clichés: on the title track Seasoned Sun, Leven sings “Make some love together / Taste the beauty in the sun / Make some peace everyone.” Now John Lennon and Janis Joplin had the make love not war tract down, but from Gulp, this kind of work is not as applicable nor is it as poignant. This isn’t to say that Generation X/Y and the Millennials don’t have their own share of conflicts, but there are other artists (such as Chvrches) who capture that desperation and lack of control over one’s life in a deeper ways. Gulp does capture a bit of this power on Grey Area and Play, but it’s few and far between.
Gulp’s saving grace lies in the beauty of its instrumental section. The long rolls of Clean and Serene and Grey Area conjure the image that Pryce and Leven gaze at their shoes the entirety of their playing time, going over riff and riff with a detached and surreal feel. It’s nice, makes for some easy listening, and it’s genuinely pleasurable to hear. In fact, despite its lyrical pitfalls, Season Sun would be flat out incredible if the album were rewritten with that in mind. Instead of three-minute ditties that never go anywhere, Pryce and Leven could do well in extending their jams to their absolute maximum. The technicality (for what can be said in psych-folk) is totally there – see the track Everything for a wonderful confluence of style and rollicking keyboards. It’s the same problem that The Psychic Ills had on 2013’s One Track Mind but avoided on the immediate predecessor Hazed Dream.
Season Sun will take listeners on a sonic safari of smoky rooms and forgotten lives. For those fans of modern psych-folk like The Long Lost, this will certainly appeal and get your pipes rolling. The ending love ballad I Want To Dance is silly and ridiculous in the ways that love totally is. Gulp suffers from the side-project lack of focus, but they have the capabilities to push their music to the edge on which they obviously live. Tune in and stare at the sun, for that’s what Season Sun does well.