Friday, modern alt-funk band Good Whales released their first full-length album, “Flying Circus.” These guys have been around for years, flying under the radar as a local southern California band and appealing to the surf rock crowd. “Flying Circus” has what it takes to bring them to the mainstream.
The trio have obvious natural musical talent. Through nasty guitar licks and funky bass, Good Whales bring a personalized modern style to derivative music. Inspired by surf, blues and psychedelia, they have joined the new wave of acid rock.
Bands like Mild High Club and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are bringing psychedelia back from the dead. A prominent counterculture of decades past is born again through music and Good Whales is assisting in the resurrection.
Good Whales’ aesthetic maintains the charming quirk of the band — it’s off-beat, hodgepodge, DIY and trippy. The album cover of “Flying Circus” is a photograph overlaid with various hand-drawn illustrations and cut-outs of the band members being lifted away by umbrellas.
“Flying Circus” contains variance in music and vocals, yet maintains general consistency. The style of the music itself comes through despite ambiance or subject matter of any given track. Layered guitars and riffs that can appropriately be described as “saucy” give the album a feel, which is a cross between Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys and Thee Oh Sees.
No matter how many comparisons are made, "Flying Circus" stands on its own as a technically advanced and well-crafted album. Lyrics are somewhat sparse, making the music the focal point.
As music has evolved, it’s definition has become malleable and not all music is created equal. True instrumentation and the use of it to carry an album isn’t always expected. Organic music cannot be matched by anything made by a pop factory. While I don’t intend to make any judgement calls, there’s a line that distinguishes the musically gifted. The Good Whales fall on that side of the line.
Tracks like “Kuoko II” and “21st Century Blues” are driven by funky bass and drums, highlighted by the guitar which floats above the rest. There are moments of impending doom, marked by disorienting diminished chords. This use of chaos gives the impression that each note is outrunning the other, headed toward an imaginary finish line.
“Play It Cool” is my favorite track on the album. Beginning with a bass-heavy, harmonic configuration of instrumentation that The Grateful Dead would admire, it’s danceable and happy. This track could easily be a jam session the band happened to catch on tape.
At its half-way mark, “Play It Cool” drops off, taking on a darker tone and transitioning from that danceable jam to a slow build of bass accompanied by sustained, droning guitar. As the build reaches its peak, it’s cut off by a jolt of drums, wrapping us back to the start. Each instrument line is layered on top of the other, creating an angier sound that the track began with.
The Good Whales, while little-known, sound anything but amateur. With a level of technical talent to challenge their mainstream counterparts, they’re the next big thing.