Following up a breakthrough album, such as Boss Keloid’s last opus Melted On The Inch (Holy Roar) which finished at #4 in Ghost Cult’s Album of the Year poll in 2018, is a challenging proposition. Stray too far from the magic formula and you risk undoing that giant stride taken forwards (even without being a band that has always taken efforts to ensure development and evolution of their sound is a given); repeat the previous approach and accusations of diminishing returns, or playing it safe, abound along with an invariably inferior product.
With their fifth album, Family The Smiling Thrush (Ripple Music), the Wigan (UK) prog / stoner / psych rock troupe hit the sweet spot of evolution from a predecessor without abandoning the elements that made it such a sterling release. If Melted… was a leap, a bound, and a pole vaulting across lanes from the heavy slabs of Herb Your Enthusiasm (Black Bow), …Thrush is a long stroll down adjoining sun-drenched thoroughfares to its antecedent release.
And, while …Thrush, is the logical progression from Melted, it is also a somewhat more complex and layered offering that rewards time and repeated listens. The only immediacy about it is that it is not an immediate album. On the initial few listens, the nine-minute first song ‘Orang of Noyn’ feels a lengthy rambler and an odd choice of opener, and ‘Cecil Succulent’ appears a lurching Prog number without aim which keeps its hooks to itself. Both, like proverbial wild flowers, gradually open and show their beauty over the course of return visits.
More cleaning up and spreading out of the sound has taken place, as Chris Fielding at Foel Studios has delivered the sonic faery-dust such tales and yarns of quirky rock require to sparkle, and the underpinning elastic distorted guitars of Paul Swarbrick allow his own idiosyncratic motifs and dancing six-strings to fleck each track with unusual colour and shape. Meanwhile, Alex Hurst builds on his reputation; powerful, distinctive vocal tones acting as the guide on off-kilter journeys like ‘Hats The Mandrill’.
Elsewhere the theme of juxtaposing stabbing heaviness with vocal melodies and unconventional guitar twitches brings matters to a rousing Corrosion of Conformity styled chorus on ‘Grendle’, while the Bosses flit from thicker climes to clean southern twangs on ‘Smiling Thrush’. A glorious organ embellishes ‘Gentle Clovis’, leaving us with a trip into a world of Deep Purple jamming with Soundgarden before a Southern-tinged lazy chorus brings smiles and swathes of warmth – the ideal soundtrack to a summer afternoon lazing by a meandering river in Constable country.
While Melted… may be their most striking and complete record, Family The Smiling Thrush continues to prove that Boss Keloid is not just a distinctive band, but a quite unique and quite excellent one who are evolving and progressing their sound with confidence as they move further into psychedelic and progressive areas – not unlike if Mastodon’s Crack The Skye (Relapse / Reprise) replaced it’s Metal heart with a more retro rock core – all while they refine and challenge their songwriting in a way that suggests the road has not reached its terminus. And that can only be a good thing, for if the second (or the sixth!) mouse gets the cheese, their next album is going to be one fat rodent indeed.
Buy the album here: https://bosskeloid.bandcamp.com/
8 / 10