Low Cool is the new solo album from Mark Lesseraux, moonlighting from The Citizens – a band you should discover now, if you haven’t already. It serves up 16 tracks of challenging, off-kilter, garage pop that owes debts to everyone from The Velvet Underground (cf The Non-Sequiturist) to The Decemberists (too many to name) to The White Stripes (Wunderkind, Caterpillar Wishes).
Where The Citizens leaned more towards psychedelic pop, Lesseraux’s approach is a little darker, particularly the rougher vocal delivery on tracks such as The Caterpillar, drenched in late ’60s organs and dreamy percussion. Recorded using a mixture of lo-fi techniques and more polished production, the differences work well together, bringing a sense of surprise to each track that ensures you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get next.
Lesseraux is as interesting lyrically as he is musically, with tracks such as Everyone Here Is Going To Die jumping between crushing morbidity and an uplifting plea to make the most of life from one line to the next – “So at least have the decency to wave as you walk by”, while Barry Got A Bumb Deal drags the rawest Mississippi Blues into the 21st Century, a tortured acoustic guitar alone against the world before The Breakdown explodes into life as if the drums had never gone away. From there, the album segues into A Parallel Afternoon, a beautiful piano ballad that Morrissey might have written if he’d grown up in the Hamptons instead of Salford.
This sets the scene for the second half of the album (like The Citizens’ Post Cro-Magnon Drift, the track listing is split in two as if this is a wonderful vinyl gatefold, with huge artwork and room for the lyrics. Lads, please don’t ever stop). More summery, hazy and gentle than the rawness of the first eight tracks, it slips back ever so slightly into The Citizens’ territory. 14 Girls in particular is the kind of perfect psychedelic pop no-one should be capable of without channelling the ghost of Arthur Lee.
By the time you get onto the wonderfully titled The Continuity Rhinoceros, you could be sharing acid with Gil Scott-Heron, and wouldn’t that be the best evening you’ve had all year?
If all that isn’t already enough, just when you think the album has finished there’s a secret track, a slowed down, fragile and intensely beautiful cover of Madonna‘s Lucky Star, tucked away like the free glass of Benedictine that really makes the evening after a particular good meal.
The Citizens were (and are) a hugely interesting band who should be getting more interest than they are this side of the pond, and the same goes for Mark Lesseraux alone. On the same label as the mother band, and helped out by Citizens guitarist Thom Loubert on several tracks, let’s hope there’s room on the music scene for both incarnations.