There are more than a few ways of ‘discovering’ music new to oneself. Press reviews, radio play, friend recommendations and spending money on a whim are all winners. Even (current bugbear alert!) terrible, twee covers of the likes of Pixies, Stone Roses, The Smiths or Joy Division have a use if someone hears it and wonders what the original sounded like before adland got a hold of it and hoovered the soul out. The most fun method for me over the years is the good old Pete Frame Method. It’s probably no coincidence for me that of all the little groups and subsets of musical taste I’ve been into over the years, many of my favourite moments of finding things have sprung from reading through the credits and thanks lists of new records (1980s Thrash albums being particularly lengthy exponents of this craft), a habit that continues to this day.
And it’s a habit easily fed by seasoned arch-subcontractors the Soulsavers (whose recent album I scribbled about here), themselves coming to my attention via someone else (Mark Lanegan) and who have vicariously opened pathways to lead to a host of great artists and records – including both of my favourite albums of last year and more than a couple in the positions below them, either directly or via an extra step or two. This new one continues that trend, featuring as it does the vocalist from their very first album and the subject of one of the highlights (Spiritual) of their second.
Spain are not a band to be doing anything in a hurry. Even when Josh Haden’s various bandmates are making a record (their last full-length set of originals was in 2001), there’s not much of a rush involved in getting from one end to the other. The bassline that introduces opener Only One is a fine indication that we are in for: songs that contain few words delivered at their own pace with a rich, smooth backing (occasionally containing members of Haden’s extraordinarily-talented family) and a gentle spirituality that leaves the listener’s attention rapt and calmed.
This laconic air might suggest a similar downbeat throughout, but variety is paramount here: Without A Sound has a countrified, Low Anthem feel to it (from both its arrangement and Josh’s vocal delivery); I Love You has the same aching refrains and sentiment of Red House Painters; closer Hang Your Head Down Low has (as you’d probably suspect from its title) a gentle Spiritualized hymnal quality and a guitar solo that gracefully takes in several stages of David Gilmour; and the collection’s most upfront song in Because Your Love is backed purposefully by an organ drone and purposeful bass that reminds me of Paul Weller at his most Motown-gospel.
The Soul Of Spain, as its title implies, is a rather intimate album. It is in turns painfully romantic (I Love You and Falling especially), vaguely political/historical without being personal or angry (I’m Still Free opens with the first couple of lines of the USA’s national anthem, and Sevenfold seems to hark back to the heady and vicious times of the Gold Rush, with a passing reference to nations that gives it a contemporary feel), and religion gets a spin too, most specifically in All I Can Give featuring a Buddhist mantra (‘om mani padme hum’, calling on the spirit of compassion) and its recorded neighbour Walked On The Water. Nothing is defined though, merely hinted at – these are the things that have driven this album, but the whole is something less tangible than a mere list of subjects to be rattled through and ticked off, it is a rounded personality all its own.
It’s one of those records that feels equally at home keeping its innermost thoughts to itself as it does when it opens up its arms to draw you in. Its pace allows each second to pass without complication and fuss, leaving us to get on with the business of relaxing and listening. It is one of those albums that requires undivided attention to get the most out of it, thankfully our side of the bargain is easily given.