Blues Pills

Blues Pills

Written by: AP on 31/08/2014 14:00:19

The last three years have been meteoric for Örebro, Sweden based multi-national vintage rock sensation Blues Pills: from humble beginnings they have risen through the ranks to obtain signature by the revered Nuclear Blast, released a critically acclaimed EP, and found themselves performing at some of the European continent's largest rock and metal festivals (typically on the largest stage) to ravenous audiences. And no wonder: the nerve and edge of their fusing Jimi Hendrix & 'Zeppelin inspired, psychedelic 70's rock and American soul makes them one of the most unique propositions in the saturated heritage rock niche. Needless to say, their self-titled debut album arrived against gargantuan expectations early this month, scenes of all kinds of disposition teeming with anticipation for what would likely emerge as a serious contender for Album of the Year. Here thus, is my own endeavour to determine whether or not "Blues Pills" makes itself deserving of the hype, and indeed whether or not it has the character to beat off powerful competition from a number of releases that have shut me up this year already.

Those who checked out the EP will already have spoiled the excitement that comes with discovering for the first time the style and sound of Blues Pills. But chances are that - despite the high grade they earned from us - Blues Pills still remain a buried treasure for some of our readers, especially the portion of you who inevitably (and understandably) feel that the retro rock movement is beginning to be marred by excessive saturation. And for such skeptics, the worthwhileness of consigning roughly 43 minutes of your time to this record really cannot be emphasised too much. It offers the same sort of psychedelic angle to celebrating the music of the rock music of the 70’s as, for example, Kadavar and to some extent Graveyard, but while it is true that the ten songs here rarely, if ever, venture beyond some concoction of rock’n’roll swagger, kaleidoscopic jams and moody balladry, Blues Pills do have a secret weapon which they deploy to tremendous effect so as to distinguish themselves from the hordes. That weapon is their Swedish vocalist Elin Larsson, whose own disparaging influences bring to the mix the nerve and edge to which I refer in the preamble to this review. She draws her inspiration not from rock, but from soul and classic R’n’B, with artists such as Aretha Franklin and even Adele readily audible in her powerful, smoky singing, and were it not for her contributions, Blues Pills would have little else to their credit than dime-a-dozen old school rock - played to satisfaction, yet lacking that extra leverage to merit true critical acclaim.

Mind you, this is not some hired gun setup where the three musicians, guitarist Dorian Sorriaux, bassist Zack Anderson & drummer Cory Berry stoop to the background. It is in the interplay between Larsson and them that Blues Pills strike the red chord, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the opening track and lead single, "High Class Woman". Larsson's singing creeps in little by little, like an exotic flower brought to blossom, atop a teasing tremolo pattern not unlike Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger", dangling the powerful, provocative chorus in front of you at length before its unleashing; then, halfway through, she retreats from the spotlight while Sorriaux, Anderson & Berry jam into a kind of improvised Hendrix-style hippie seance. The transition is executed with finesse, and it speaks even louder in favour of the quartet's song writing mastery that the same jam swirls into the following "Ain't No Change" as well, giving rise to a sense that you're completely engrossed by the Pills' rainbow coloured Woodstock '69 universe so aptly reflected in the artwork, which boasts virtually the entire visible spectrum, and a logo in best Jefferson Airplane fashion.

The "Devil Man" EP was ostensibly divided like Yin and Yang into two high octane bangers, and two measured ballads (you will find re-recorded versions of one of each here as well in "Devil Man" and "River"). But on "Blues Pills", those aspects have been ground into one powder spiced with hallucinatory organic jams, so that the likes of "Black Smoke" freely shift to and fro between blues ridden balladry and 'Zeppelin-esque explosions of badassery. In that sense, the stylistic divide between Blues Pills and Graveyard has grown narrower, with a song like the excellent "No Hope Left for Me" even sounding eerily reminiscent of the Swedish heritage rockers' scintillating "Slow Motion Countdown" - form-wise, tone-wise and in terms of the timing with which Larsson accentuates her notes in the chorus. Throw in the deliberately low fidelity production courtesy of Don Alsterberg (who, incidentally, also worked with Graveyard) and replace Larsson with Joakim Nilsson, and it would be nigh impossible to tell the two bands apart.

But as pronounced as those smilarities are across much of the album, Blues Pills do have a few aces up their sleeve as well. The cool, constantly morphing wah-wah riffs that permeate "Jupiter" play to perfection with Larsson's elegant swagger, and the intense jungle percussion blitz unrolled by Berry in the sterling "Gypsy" near the end of the album is as unforgettable as Larsson's commendable and highly successful attempt to sing like a certain Robert Plant in that same track. Given the music of 'Zeppelin has played such an immense part in shaping the style and sound of Blues Pills, it is of course hardly a surprise they've left an easter egg in the form of subtle references to the classic "Stairway to Heaven" at the consummation of the record in "Little Sun" (pay attention to the bass and guitar at its beginning, in particular). Once that track, an atmospheric and hugely absorbing conclusion to an album bristling with quality, winds to an end, you're left with the feeling that Blues Pills are destined for stardom - especially so if they continue carving out their own niche with more songs like "Jupiter" and "Gypsy".


Download: High Class Woman, Jupiter, No Hope Left for Me, Gypsy, Little Sun
For the fans of: Aretha Franklin, Graveyard, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, Mud Walk
Listen: Facebook

Release date 05.08.2014
Nuclear Blast

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