Friday, June 8, 2012

British transplant releases album with Charlotte-based band, books string of upcoming shows

Charlotte has been pretty short on British-influenced pop music - Brit-pop if you will - especially since the demise of shoegazer influenced bands like Bellglide, First Night on Earth, and Laburnum, who all referenced the `80s and `90s in some way. Coincidentally a couple members of those bands - guitarist Taylor Short and bassist Wes Grasty - have found an actual Brit to back as part of the Rels (with drummer Donnie Merritt - pictured right with Grasty, Crozer, and Short from left to right). Band leader Mark Crozer isn’t simply a Charlotte transplant. He’s a former guitarist for veteran Scottish alternative rock band the Jesus & Mary Chain. He fell in love with an American during JAMC’s 2007 reunion tour, married had a child, and relocated to Charlotte.

Crozer brings a winking “Doctor Who” reference to the band’s name and a batch of mostly sunny songs that flit between a more accessible version of his old band mates (imagine JAMC without the cloud of distortion) and Beatles-esque pop. By the way a Rel is the Dalek unit of measurement for time on the long running British sci-fi series. A Dalek is probably Who’s most widely recognized enemy - in case you were wondering. (I’ll stop there. Is my geek showing?)

In April, Crozer released his self-titled album. The album actually doesn't feature the Charlotte-based players who make up his live band, who he met after finishing the album.

It begins with “War Drum” - a sort of a declaration. There’s even a touch of Southern garage rock in the guitar line. “I Need a Vaccination” is a zippy punk-tinged number. Another favorite, “Killed By Karma,” begins with a Cure-like intro (the bassline reminds me of “Inbetween Days”). You can hear that familiar Jesus & Mary Chain guitar tone ringing out especially during the solo. That sound informs “Sunshine” as well. But these songs are much poppier (even prettier) unless your reference point to JAMC begins and ends with its 1994 hit collaboration with Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval “Sometimes Always.”

There’s a lot more than Crozer’s former employers in his sound. There is pretty Moody Blues/Byrds-like singing. Things get downright chipper on “Sunshine” and the bopping “Brand New World.”  “You are a Light” is a sunny acoustic love song. “Just Another Day” bounces merrily. With the vocal melodies and high harmonies songs like those reference the Rels’ Beatles side. In fact songs “Light” and “Day” sound a lot like what Charlotte’s own Beatles-influenced pop veterans the Spongetones have been releasing in recent years (a more modern take on its Beatles’ influence).

More-often-than-not the Rels tread in more recent retro territory too. I particularly like “Put Those `80s Records On.” The title alone is an attention-getter. “Let’s Go to the Moon” reminds me of a happier Echo & the Bunnymen because of the guitar parts that bookend the verses.  The bridge captures the same kind of angst as the Psychedelic Furs at its best. It’s pretty magical.

 “Waiting for June” may be the most unusual track on the album. It builds on pensive strings, piano, and near whispered vocals. It reminds me of a trippy, psychedelic soundtrack that would suit “Belle du Jour” if it were remade for today or maybe serve a shot of Austin Powers discovering his latest bell bottom bombshell strutting into the room and shaking her hair in slow motion. 

The melody of “Deep Carolina” bops along innocently then swells into a dark, psychedelic guitar solo. “What a Fool I’ve Been” begins with jangly strumming and melancholy apologetic vocals. Things get darker as the albums nears its close. A James Bond-like guitar and tension-filled piano give way to a slightly brighter (thanks to Crozer’s vocals) chorus on “A Good Heart.” The final track, "Bristol Hum," closes the record on a dark, dance-y note with a beat that would be at home in one of Blondie’s disco tracks although it’s the most modern song on the album. “Bristol Hum” contains yet another interesting bridge too. I’ve always been a sucker for a killer bridge and the Rels do them well.

The Rels have a string of shows lined up in June. The group plays the Thirsty Beaver in Plaza-Midwood Saturday, June 9 with Overmountain Men at 9 p.m. Free. It is also part of the Charlotte Shakespeare Festival at The Green Uptown on Saturday, June 15. Its set starts at 7:15 p.m. Free.

It plays the Mount Holly Farmer’s Market (130 S. Main St.) Saturday, June 16, at the un-rock n’ roll hour of 9:30 a.m. before heading to the annual Beatles Tribute at Knight Theater at 7 p.m. where it will perform “If I Needed Someone.” That last one is not a free show, but it’s an incredibly popular local tribute to the Fab Four - more on that next week. Over 20 acts. Tickets are $20. 704-372-1000.

The Rels have also been added to the June 22 bill at Snug Harbor with Temperance League, Wylie Hunter & the Cazadores and Darth Hipster & the Star Destroyer. Admission is $5. 

Find Crozer online here or here.  Larry Toppman also interview Crozer in December. You can read that story here