Album Review: The Ramona Flowers- Part Time Spies (Distiller Records, 2016)

Source: CSR FM
Source: CSR FM

By Bonnie Shawcross, Contributor. 

Bristol quintet The Ramona Flowers are, if you couldn’t tell from the album cover, fans of the 1980s. A relatively new group, releasing their debut Dismantle and Rebuild in 2014, they are seemingly on the up and up, opening for big names including Bastille and Stereophonics. Critically, they have had mixed success; from being heralded as a potential new Radiohead then subsequently criticised for daring to even emulate them, to being glowingly associated with Depeche Mode in one review while being negatively compared to them in the next. While it is true their debt to what has gone before is hard to ignore, it does the band a disservice to let the occasional dips into the generic override the innovative moments that fill this latest release.

The influence of the New Wave decade can be heard through several tracks and these have mixed results. The opener, “Dirty World”, is neither danceable nor a rock pop anthem that its restrained guitars would suggest it wanted to be. Meanwhile, “Midnight Express” comes as a twinkling instrumental which owes a lot to the eponymous 1978 theme song, while adding in a little flair of Tangerine Dream. Echoes of Kraftwerk are heard in the beginning of “Hurricane”, but the band quite clearly claim the song as their own as the rigid synth melts into guitar and the dark off beat that drives the song, turning it into one of the standouts of the album.

There are several tracks, however, that take steps away from their synthesised sound and are a surprising yet welcome contrast; the lush harmonies of “Skies Turn Gold” and the unprocessed and touching piano of “Start to Rust” allow the listener to get lost in nostalgic emotion, though the quirky twist and turns in the beats stop the songs getting too formulaic. Steve Bird’s sweet and expressive voice shines on these thoughtful tracks and later reaches a particularly deep emotional level in the sparse and quirky “My Weirdo”. His falsetto takes on a rather desperate tone in the ominous and unique “Sharks”, the definite album highlight that shows how impressive the band can be when they finally unleash their heavier sound.

It’s difficult to sum up this album adequately. Rather ironically, the common theme of all these tracks is their variety, sometimes veering in so many directions it’s hard to believe that one group is responsible for it all. It would be wrong to say it’s generic and familiar; there are enough truly unique flourishes within the peppy 80s synths, the dark undertones of rock, and the offbeats to make each track a worthy listen. However, one can’t help but wonder how distinctive their music could be if the band ventured outside the comforting conventions of pop from days gone by and developed their more original ideas to the full.

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