My familiarity with psych and garage rock tends to skew more towards US and Scandinavian bands, but Ukrainian band Straytones caught my attention with their recently released full-length Magic Green River Swimmin’ & Stunning Tarzanka Experience (which is a mouthful of an album name). Where others have made a name for themselves with double digit song lengths and sprawling waves of distortion and haze while others have focused more on the riffs, Straytones falls somewhere in the middle. Their latest release pulls heavily from different rock variants of the 60s and 70s, with elements of surf rock and straight up rock ‘n roll coexisting with the psychedelic and garage sides of the sound. The result is an album that is familiar but doesn’t fall into the same genre tropes you’ve heard a million times, making for a truly enjoyable listen.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of a good deal of modern psychedelic and garage rock but there’s no denying that a lot of them have pulled from the same sets of influences, or in some cases tried and let the haze and wall of sound make up for a lack of substance. Straytones also pulls from some of these same influences that defined these sub-genres of rock in the 60s and 70s, but what sets them apart is the strength of their riffs and their ability to switch things up from one song to the next. Each track does have that crunchier, analog tone that’s warm and bright, encouraging you to immediately dive in and find out what they’re all about, but how they use that tonality differs significantly. Songs like “Oh Sweet Seeds” showcase Straytones’ ability to shift within the confines of a single piece, starting off with a jangly surf rock/pop riff before transforming into a sprawling psychedelic and even shoegaze sounding melody around the halfway point. It’s hard to strike a balance between familiarity and innovation, but this trio is starting to push outside the usual boundaries here and sometimes remind me of ten different bands without sounding exactly like a particular one. There also aren’t too many lulls, as Magic Green River Swimmin’ & Stunning Tarzanka Experience has consistently engaging riffs from beginning to end and at a little over forty minutes the material doesn’t drag either. Closing song “Magical River” is also worth mentioning too, as it injects an almost early punk feel with the driving bass line and quirkier instrumentation.
Since this is brighter psychedelic rock and not the heavy psych variety, the vocals utilize a light and airier tone that seem to dance in and out of the layers of sound. Guitarist Artem handles the majority of the singing with drummer Eugenia providing some back-ups on some of the songs. She even gets to take the spotlight on “Magical River” which is part of what gives that particular track such a different and unexpected vibe from some of the other material on the album. Like with the instrumentation the vocals offer up quite a bit of diversity, sometimes giving off a bit more of a laid-back folk sound while other times capturing that pure rock ‘n roll feel. “The Key” even has some lower, echoey ranges that channel a bit of spaghetti western. It’s a mixture with a wide range of appeal and gives Straytones an edge over some of the others out there.
Straytones is the first psych/garage rock from Ukraine that I’ve heard but they’re setting the bar high on their latest album. There’s still room for them to continue exploring this wide range of styles from across the classic decades of rock and transform even further into something truly unique, but the amount of memorable riffs and bright, calming melodies make this a fantastic experience. And I can't think of too many other recent albums where you get bursts of fuzz and feedback, folky melodies, and warm shoegaze/psychedelic landscapes that all have natural transitions, often in the course of a single song. Magic Green River Swimmin’ & Stunning Tarzanka Experience is available from Robustfellow.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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