San Francisco based Still Flyin’ may just be the best party band since The B-52s. We caught their late show at Pavement’s ATP in Minehead in 2010 and were mightily impressed as the eight or nine piece (I lost count, it was late) rattled through a fine set mixing ska, indie and funk across singalong choruses and the best (well, only) horn section of the weekend.
The problem with bands like Still Flyin that are just so darn good live is how can they ever reach such dizzy heights on CD. They tried on their ska/reggae focused first album Never Gonna Tough the Ground (2009) and it worked in places. But on their latest album On A Bedroom Wall they’ve just held their hands up, admitted defeat and tried something different.
The different in question is to take a leaf out of Daniel Bejar’s book and go 80s. Under the Destroyer moniker Bejar’s 2011 album Kaputt was one of the year’s best as it effortlessly mixed New Order bass lines with Prefab Sprout riffs. Much of On a Bedroom Wall follows this path with Peter Hook bass, synths and crisp, clean guitar riffs, especially at the start of the album on Elsie Dormer and Travelin’ Man.
For third track Big Trouble in Little Alabama they add a little of their live experience. The guitars get funkier, the choruses more like indie sing-alongs and the band’s female backing vocals turned up a notch. It’s also around this point in the album where lead singer and chief songwriter Sean Rawls starts sounding more like himself, rather than New Order’s Bernard Sumner.
The funk guitar on Camouflage Detection is particularly good during this middle segment, but as the album draws to a close its back to the book of Bejar and more of the 1980s.
While this hint of their live prowess on some tracks, and conscious effort to replicate the 1980s presents an uneven album it is by no means unsatisfying. In fact, it’s on the whole full of fun and summery pop. My main quibble though is where are the trumpets and sax? These were the highlight of their live set and first album and gives the band a nice, early Dexy’s Midnight Runners feel. It would be a shame if in the ever changing giant line up of Still Flyin’ there is no more room for a horn section, which after all was a cornerstone of so much of mainstream 80s music anyway.
by Joe Lepper