“The past is a foreign country,” so runs the old adage. Except nobody told Kentucky native James Friley that. For, in an age where the obsession is on ‘new’ and ‘modern’, Friley takes genres such as ’50s doo-wop, Motown and Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys as his touchstone.
On first hearing, it’s slightly jarring – the lo-fi recordings sound spectral, almost ghostly, as if these are some lost recordings wafting down the ether. Yet, in a similar way to Moshi Moshi labelmates Summer Camp, Friley puts his own modern spin on influences which were popular a good 40 years before his birth.
If makes for the perfect opener, full of looped vocals and a fragile backing of an eerie keyboard motif – and at only two minutes long, it’s never in danger of outstaying its welcome. It runs into the Motown-apeing chorus of Let’s Go Down Together, by which time Friley’s retro influences are clearly established.
Part of the beauty lies in hearing Friley’s voice looped and harmonising with itself – the aforementioned Let’s Go Down Together has swooping and soaring vocals, while early single Don’t Drink The Water manages to invoke that least hip of genres, barbershop quartets – an impressive achievement, considering this is all the work of just one man.
Admittedly, much of Paddywhack will be an acquired taste – the vibe is low-key and downtempo, and some may find it all a bit too repetitive over the course of an album. Indeed, Friley is at his best when he takes things up a notch – Trouble At The Dancehall is probably the most upbeat track here, yet still maintains a weirdly chilling atmosphere – if David Lynch needs a new musical collaborator, he need look no further.
While the pace flags midway through the album – the near instrumental Deep Descent is the closest that Paddywhack comes to filler, and I Want To Stay The Night seems to be retreading old ground with more doo-wop vocals – things pick up for the lovely FOE, which skips along delightfully with its refrain of “no one messes with my girl” and all manner of vocal interplay between the multi-tracked Friley. It’s on tracks like this that you’re convinced that Idiot Glee is the sweetest thing you’ll hear all year.
Paddywhack is probably too unassuming and restrained to make any impression on the wider public. That’s a shame, for if you can be bothered to seek it out, there are some genuinely gorgeous moments that sound like nothing else out there right now. Idiot Glee is one to keep an eye on.