This writer first became acquainted with Spectrals after stumbling across last years’ 7” single split (with London’s Fair Ohs) and falling spectacularly in love with the woozy haze of ‘Keep Your Magic Out of My House’. A few months later, the one- man band that is Yorkshire lad Louis Jones, released his EP Extended Play, a collection of tracks that showed he was an artist already expertly accomplished in his craft (and clearly one unable to stop his own creative outpour given the amount of songs already available on the Internet). Fast forward another year on then, and this late in the day it seems almost odd to be talking about the prospect of Spectrals’ debut proper.
Despite his high output rate there’s no doubt that painstaking devotion has been poured into the making of every one of the songs on Bad Penny – for a start Jones writes, sings and plays everything other than the drums. But what’s also evident is Jones’ adulation for the records that inspired these new tracks. The flame-haired Wakefield singer/ songwriter may only be the tender age of 21 but he’s paying obvious tribute to music he loves from days of yore, and his jangling, weather-beaten surf pop in the vein of Real Estate’s ‘Beachcomber’ or more recently The Smith Westerns, is as much indebted to ‘50s and ‘60s singers Billy Fury and Bobby Vee. Compared to his earlier releases, the Phil Spector Wall of Sound-esque production has been cleaned up considerably putting paid to those lazy Crystal Stilts comparisons. And now instead of swirling in fug his melodies bask purely in reverb-soaked emotion.
You see Jones is a man in love, or out of love, sometimes it’s hard to tell. He’s already admitted every one of these tracks is about “one girl” and boy she must be a heart-breaker… the eleven songs here simply drip with nostalgia-drenched, love-lorn and heart-melting swoon.
Opener ‘Get A Grip’ is more upbeat than any of Extended Play’s smudged, downbeat doo-wop, but love’s keen sting is present from the beginning. “I always seem to let my smile slip, It’s not for lack of trying,” sighs Jones in his Alex Turner-esque Yorkshire drawl. “I find it hard to get my head out of the right side of the bed.” Later on ‘Big Baby’ he croons; “You crashed into me when I was 17. And nobody told me girls could be so mean” while on the down-tuned waltz of ‘Many Happy Returns’ he yearns; “Waiting for your ma to collect you, wondering if she ever asked you who I am to you.”
Sure, it comes across as a bit puppyish, but Spectrals never truly get maudlin on us – there’s too many tropical guitar lines dotted about the place and too much playful joy in Jones’ velveteen lo-fi to dwell on heartbreak for too long. “If you can’t live on love alone, what else is there? I don’t know,” he muses on ‘You Can’t Live on Love Alone’ while the trio of ‘Doing Time’, ‘Confetti’ and ‘Brain Freeze’ provide some of the sweetest hooks around.
It would be fair to say every one of these songs aren’t amongst Jones’ best work. ‘You Don’t Have To Tell Me’ and ‘Luck Is There To Be Pushed’ for instance are nowhere near as strong as the likes of ‘Peppermint’ or ‘Chip A Tooth’ from Extended Play. But this is an incredibly strong debut and Spectrals are making the kind of honestly timeless stuff that’s in short supply in modern music. Bad Penny’s 11 tracks will command just over only 29 minutes of your time, a half hour that’s short but oh so sweet.