Its not often you can say a band is unique without seeming deluded or misguided; one listen to Psychedelic/Folk Glaswegians Haight-Ashbury and it's easy to see they really are such a band. Whether it's their haunting twin vocals, unusual live set up or their habit of writing a brilliant baroque pop song and then smashing it to pieces, creating a noise that can change from beautiful to surreal in an instant. Live, they play with no amplifiers but still manage to create a huge sound from just a few instruments, a sound that one music critic described as if the Velvet Underground were the Mama & The Papas backing band...ok, with a bit of Joni Mitchell, Jesus & Mary Chain, CSN&Y and Pentangle thrown in.
Brother and sister Scott(gtrs) and Kirsty( bass/vox)and best friend Jen ( perc/vox) were picked by the legendary Vaselines to join them on their current reunion UK tour, following on from the hugely popular last single Freeman Town with the new single Favourite Song which has already been played hundreds of times on US radio.
The three members of Haight-Ashbury might call Glasgow home, but you’d never know they were Scots based on the West Coast vibes of this debut album, particularly its lead track Freeman Town which sounds like some forgotten acid-kissed classic from the darker side of the flower power era. Both beauteous and beastly, it lingers languorously over six minutes, peaking and dipping and buzzing and moaning, trippily and luxuriously, like a terrestrial audio accompaniment to 2001: A Space Odyssey’s famously what-the-hell-is-this? final chapter.
But while this outfit – Kirsty (bass, vocals), Scott (guitar, sitar) and Jen (drums, vocals) – flaunts obvious connections, and exhibits a substantial debt, to the hazier end of the 1960s, they’re not without contemporary touchstones. The fog they furiously manifest, through drone effects and heavy atmospheres, is a whisper away from a parallel with Black Mountain and Sleepy Sun. And, rather more on-trend, the dual female vocal approach offers a comparison with the super-hyped Warpaint. But while the rapidly rising Los Angeles quartet, whose own debut album preceded this 12-tracker by just two weeks, tap into goth’s 1980s rise as well as rather more hippie-hued tendencies, Haight-Ashbury channel their own dramas through a rock that sits outside of fashion – a fairly ubiquitous rattle and roll that is both this album’s wonderful selling point and its most pertinent weakness.
Familiarity, as the saying goes, breeds contempt – and these songs rarely stray from a template so safe that imitators-in-waiting need only a cursory introduction before beginning their own interpretations. Sure, the formula’s an often thrilling one – the way that Molitof grows in volume and threat, the vocals slipping into the background behind backwards sitar, is most appealing, and the widely playlisted Favourite Song is the sort of sweetly immediate offering that deserves such a title – but it’s still an easily processed approach that soon leads to expectations being barely matched and the tone set by that cracking opener becoming somewhat tired. Much like fellow townsfolk Glasvegas, they’re a pony in need of a handful more tricks.
But for as long as Here in the Golden Rays retains its early charm – and it is a splendid set for the short term – it’s a real pleasure. If the trio take their obvious ability, and their great hooks, into a creative space where more of their own identity is apparent, album two should be an outright triumph.