Step Right Up: Allah-Las
“A sound cultivated from the annals of California culture; the perfect mixture of the sands, the seas, the streets and cities of the golden state.”
Words & Illustration: Craig Carry
The music of Los Angeles-based band Allah-Las was only a very recent discovery for me. Their name came courtesy of a certain Mr. Stonegoat, who had proclaimed his love for their self-titled record. The album in question is the band’s debut LP, and was released at the end of last year on Innovative Leisure, a record label based in Los Angeles, California. Prior to this full length album came a 7″ entitled “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind)”, a song recalling vintage Rolling Stones – had I been told it was in fact a newly discovered ‘lost’ Stones song from the early 60′s I wouldn’t have though twice about it. The single’s B side, entitled ‘Sacred Sands’, is a stunning instrumental, featuring really rather fine guitar playing and a wonderful knack for melody. On this occasion, the band take a leaf out of The Byrds’ songbook and create a very confident three-and-a-half minute tune straight from the Californian sands.
The following is the opening verse for the aforementioned single “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind)”:
“Tell me what I could get from what you have
I’m not feeling yet quite so bad
I’m not getting half of what I earn
I thought that we were sad
but now I’ve learned “
What’s most striking is the pause at the end of the verse: “but now I… I’ve learned ” The vocal is vintage Dylan, in delivery and execution. The song’s chorus, featuring a lovely vocal harmony, is: “Tell me what’s on your mind / Cos I can’t find it”. Oozing with confidence, the chorus makes way for a McGuinn-like guitar solo. Prior to the second chorus we are treated with a wonderfully slowed down section (equal parts Velvets and Stones). The song is a three minute distillation of seventies U.S. music.
According to the band’s website, their sound is described as being “cultivated from the annals of California culture; the perfect mixture of the sands, the seas, the streets and cities of the golden state.” The Allah-Las themselves are a quartet formed in 2008. In fact, according to Pitchfork, three of its four members met while working at famed U.S. record store Amoeba (on Sunset Boulevard). It’s rather clear the group soaked up much influence from this time, and harnessed it into their own sound in time.
In fact, prior to the release of ‘Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind)’, came the single “Catamaran”/”Long Journey” from 2011. ‘Catamaran’ has a lovely groove and features, again, impressive guitar. The song echoes Phil Spector’s songbook while also reminiscent of James Skelly’s wonderful Liverpudlian band The Coral (particularly their wonderfully chaotic eponymous debut album). An organ here works wonderfully alongside the jingle-jangle guitars, bringing another hue to their sonic palette. ‘Long Journey’ opens with a cool bass line, the groove building (a la Joe Meek) with a breezy backing harmony. The song opens with the lyrics: “It’s been a long, long ride / I don’t know where I’ll sleep”, and features another vintage sixties guitar solo – this time played more aggressively – contrasting nicely with the delicate harmony.
“It’s been a long, long journey
Don’t know where I left my mind
Down in the canyon or maybe
in the back of your eye.”
The subject-matter, like much of the Allah-Las album, draws its inspiration from the sun-blazed Californian east coast – but scratch the surface and you will soon discover a darker underbelly in these compelling songs of alienation, longing and youth’s fleetingness. A very promising record from a band to watch out for in the years to come.
The self-titled debut album by Allah-Las is out now on Innovative Leisure.
The band have also announced a European tour for 2013. For dates, please see here.