Staring at the decidedly '80s-esque cover to the new album by Sexton Blake, entitled Sexton Blake Plays The Hits, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Now, I’ll get in albums to review that are by artists I’ve never heard of on a regular basis, but rarely are they wrapped in such an interesting and stylized homage to the decade that was the stomping ground for my teenage years.
Intrigued, I flipped the CD over and gave the track listing a look. It was at this point, for those interested, that I found myself flipping the jewel case back and forth a bit and chuckling to myself. Not only was I apparently fated to review an album by an artist I’d never heard of, but I was going to get to do so via songs that have a personal space in the sonic tapestry of my life.
To see if you’d be as intrigued as I was, here is the track listing:
- Hungry Heart
- Bette Davis Eyes
- Young Turks
- Making Love Out Of Nothing At All
- I Need Love
- The Logical Song
- Oh L’Amour
- Girl You Know It’s True
- Rush Rush
- Evil Woman
- Live In A Northern Town
- Human Nature
Now, be honest. When you were reading that list, weren’t you able to hear the songs flitting across your mind as you did so? Me too.
After having admitted that, I’m not ashamed to admit that my first few listens to the album found me wandering around the house with my headphones on, while making confused faces to myself as I sang along with the music. Instead of something bold and brash and as iconically '80s as its artwork, you see, Sexton Blake Plays The Hits is probably the mellowest minimalist trip down memory lane that I’ve ever gone through.
Also, it turns out that Sexton isn’t the name of some indie artist with a fetish for decades gone by, but it instead a band with a talent for stripping iconic songs from decades gone by into their simplest form. Hailing from their temporary homes in Portland and Brooklyn, Josh Hodges (vocals/guitar), Ryan Bjornstad (keyboards), Thom Homolya (bass), and Tim Edgar (drums) are Sexton and Sexton are they.
And here I was thinking that Sexton Blake was the guy striking the VERY “Duran Duran” pose, on the cover. Silly me.
Anywho. Instead of the dense and emphatic sound of the original versions of, say “Bette Davis Eyes” or “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All,” we get what turns out to be an amazingly intimate sounding album. Despite being pulled from a wide range of artists, each song is built of equal measures of acoustical grace and the ethereal voice of Hodges. That’s no small feat, by the way; to be able to flow from Milli Vanilli into Paula Abdul into Elton John, and so on takes grace and talent.
Unfortunately, as lovely as this album sounds, once you’ve set down the words “acoustic,” “sparse,” “ethereal,” and “talented” — there’s not much left that you can say. It’s a lovely little album by four obviously talented guys, and while I love it and put it on when I just want to mellow out and head into a Zen-like routine at work, it just leaves me wanting — wanting more songs, wanting more diversity in the sound of the album, and most of all wanting time to go by so that these guys will get back into the studio and record another album.
This time, however, I’d want them to put their talents into honing their own songs instead of experimenting with the work of others. In the end, I suppose I like this album enough that I’d definitely suggest it to friends (aren’t we all friends here on Blogcritics, though?) and keep it in rotation on my stereo on an occasional basis. It’s beautiful; it’s lovely; and it shows the promise and potential of Sexton Blake.
Scheduled for a July release, Sexton Blake Plays The Hits will be released on Expunged Records. Anyone interested in giving a listen to a few of their songs should check out their Myspace page.