12 Track, LP (2012, Laughing Outlaw)
Originally from Liverpool before moving with his family to Brisbane and later on his own to Melbourne, Justin Wilding Stokes doesn’t stray far from his first home when making music. Previous bands the Whistlestops and Isle of Man made no secret of his love for 1960s British music, but his solo debut as Wilding is positively steeped in Beatles, Beach Boys and Kinks. It taps the most whimsical side of those acts, finding playful instrumentation in kitchen utensils and other offbeat sources.
So maybe we know what we’re in for, right from the kazoo and melodica of opener ‘I’ll Be There’. But a couple of things distinguish Wilding’s take on psychedelic bedroom pop. First, producer and collaborator Robin Waters from the Boat People, who plays just as many kooky instruments as Stokes, gives the songs a sweet closeness that comes from not drowning them in reverb or other overpowering effects. Second, Stokes writes songs from the heart that look to his heroes more for their robust songwriting and adventurous spirit than for their perennial hipness. Bird’s Bread isn’t going to outdo Pond’s Beards, Wives, Denim in shaggy cool; it’s more something a fellow ’60s enthusiastic might stumble over and knowingly approve of.
That’s not to damn the record with faint praise. It balances wistful songwriting and out-of-the-blue experimentation perfectly, from the detour-laden single ‘I’ll Love You Until Monday Morning’ to the unabashed love song ‘Pale Blue Eyes’. Stokes doesn’t keep his influences stuck in just one decade, either. His vocals recall Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys on ‘Burning Up Inside’ and ‘Alopecia’, and other songs look back to the British music hall tradition. But the ’60s thing is impossible to miss: ‘Up on Lavender Hill’ would be Kinks-ish even if the Kinks didn’t have a song called ‘Lavender Hill’, while ‘Are You Listening?’ is set against Beatles-y wallpaper.
Made in Waters’ lounge room rather than a proper studio, Bird’s Bread is every bit homemade. Friends stop by to sing along and pick up instruments – even if it’s just a cheese grater – and Andrea Jolley’s illustrations confirm the album’s daydream-y aspirations. It can come off a bit slight in places, but never dull or unfeeling.
by Doug Wallen