JULY: The Soft Bounce – Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve

I don’t think I’ve ever chosen an album of the month before about which I’m still so undecided. But here we are. Erol Alkan and Richard Norris’s musical side project, Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve, has finally produced a full album, and it’s the very definition of the phrase, a mixed bag.

Let’s start with the good. It’s a real musical journey. There are almost no two songs on here that sound the same, and you really can’t fault the guys for their ambition. It’s a post iPod album that displays the duo’s rich musical tastes – and there is almost no genre untouched on here. The most obvious one is psychedelia – from the rockier almost goth psych of Iron Age to the Jane Weaver-led cutesy psych of Creation to the instrumental freak out of Finally First to the frankly tedious spoken word druggy closer, Third Mynd.

But other songs, particularly with guest vocals, live in a totally different universe. Door to Tomorrow, with Gorky’s Euros Childs on vocals, is a wisful slice of indie that could easily be a Gorky’s song. Diagram Girl (is that the Mystery Jets guy on vocals? Not sure), in all honesty, sounds more like OMD than anything else I can think of. Nothing wrong with a bit of OMD, of course. And Black Crow, when you strip it back of the psych trappings, is a very traditional song that you could easily imagine being sung by Adele. Tomorrow Forever might well have appeared on a This Mortal Coil album!

They’re clearly coming at this from an anything-goes balaeric vibe. But it’s also as an uneven experience. On a project like this, the songs have to stand up in their own right, and I’m not sure that some of them do. On paper, this should be RIGHT up my street. I’m a huge fan of 60s psych and I love the likes of guest vocalists Jane Weaver and Hannah Peel. But there are too many times on the record that you find your attention wandering or wonder if self-indulgence has taken over. The first half is great – Iron, Age, Creation, Door to Tomorrow and Diagram Girl are 4 fantastic tracks in a row. Then it goes seriously downhill. Black Crow is seriously meh, Tomorrow Forever is far far too long, The Soft Bounce is indulgent noodly bollocks, Finally First is psych by numbers and Third Mynd is a naff druggy pysch cliche. Every time I listen to it, I’m slightly cross by the end.

It’s funny that we so often want our music to show ambition and diversity, but it’s rare to see bands pulling off the trick of making that kind of ambition work in a full album. It does flow well as a record and it is an enjoyable listen. But when you consider the standout work of recent AOTM like Christine and the Queens and Anderson Paak, this isn’t even in the same league.

Reviews have been pretty glowing of this album, though I notice no one’s quite brought themselves to give 5 stars, but maybe I’m being a bit harsh on what is a pretty fun musical diversion. But I can’t see it living long on my playlist.