. issue VI : viii .

by barathron

. artist : sunlight service group .
. album : los tres bandidos .
. year : 2013 .
. label : self-released .
. grade : a .


Sunlight Service Group has a listing in genre of ‘heavy petal.’ After failing miserably to come up with some quip about summer, sunlight, sonics and an even more flagrant abuse of alliteration to open the flood gates for gushing over Sunlight Service Group’s outstanding Los Tres Bandidos, that seemingly tossed-off pun somehow encapsulates accordingly.

Los Tres Bandidos is charming, disarming, enigmatic and not without a trace of dead-serious humor and wit that can be as razor sharp as it is oddball to the ‘non-Gypsies’ out there. Los Tres Bandidos is not only a stellar follow-up to Bowling With The Bloodied Head Of Barbara Streisand, but it also finds Sunlight Service Group seemingly doing more with less.

If you’ve been Bowling (and you really should), then you know that Sunlight Service Group have an uncanny knack for lining up the pins their own way, and then knocking them down without fail … their own way.

Folk, rock and pop (you can put a ‘psych’ before those if you want, but there’s far more going on here than just that) all get the twist on Los Tres Bandidos until they’re wrung into shapes that are still familiar when they stick out their hands, but have a new touch … possibly from a new finger or two, but paradoxically and surprising, Sunlight Service Group is now leaner and more economical. Los Tres Bandidos takes the root spine that ran through Bowling and either lets it blossom or turns it inside out. Your pick, and both would be right. The acoustic nervous system of Sunlight Service Group is taken out and put on top of the skin this time around … and from the results, that’s where it belongs.

“Idididididididid” swings the cantina doors wide open just long enough for you to look around and get your bearings before the party turns itself inside out. There’s more than a little sweat and sawdust inside amongst the spaceships, felines and frogspawn and plenty of room for you to stand, squat or elevate as you see fit. Take a look around at your guests; there are hints of the exotic over there (“Ariel Tweeto”), psych-pop that is as hooky and sweet as it is wobbly (“Genetic Throwback”), and a thought pattern and intent that borders on the proggy, even if Sunlight Service Group enter the goat-hair tent (the appropriately titled “Wormhole”) from a frayed hole in the back canvas that deliciously unravels. Take a big swig and don’t give the fly in your lava lamp another thought as it goes down your wormhole to roost in your ear.

If ‘heavy petal’ is too vague and enigmatic (and therefore dead on) then let Sunlight Service Group say it themselves, as they do best: “I’ve got something growing through me … let’s turn it into something groovy.” Please do. There certainly isn’t enough of that, and this, going around.

Pull the tattered blinds and let the sunlight in … illuminate the corners and crevices and breathe in one of the freshest breaths of air this year, resplendent in dust mites, vapor trails and sealed with a Gypsy’s kiss.

As Peter Jordan (bass, vocals, keys) and Will Robinson (vocals, guitar, ‘bits ‘n bobs’) explain, Sunlight Service Group is down to a trinity this outing, with James Moriaty providing the wonderful beating of the drum. They can decide if Los Tres Bandidos is leaner, meaner and worthy of prog on what Will hints might be sort of a sonic red herring that in no way can be mistaken for anyone other than Sunlight Service Group. Los Tres Bandidos is amazingly on target, even as Sunlight Service Group willfully keep moving the bullseye … and changing its shape along with theirs.

Atavist: Sunlight Service Group sound leaner on this outing, an even more stripped down vibe that actually broadens an already big palette. You think that’s a fair take? What’s the status of SSG these days?
Peter: I think it’s fair. Rebecca left to have a baby and Johnny also left to concentrate on his own music. So it is just the three of us now. The last album was pretty much our live set at the time, recorded live in our rehearsal space. The new one was recorded differently.
Will: The last album was recorded as a full 5 piece band when we had Rebecca (flute, vocals) and King John (guitar) in various places over a wider time span. That situation had to fit around people’s lives outside the band which created varying performance and recording quality. This time around I wrote some new songs that seemed to pop out quickly (apart from Frogspawn, which was an old one) and recorded them at home over looped drums that I recorded 3 years ago from James (apart from the Hoboken Report that was recorded from an open jam). I wanted to get the whole thing done without d-cking about, that’s one reason it’s stripped down. I then sent the songs to Pete who added some bass, vocals, organ and compressed them a bit to make them sound a bit louder. We both produced it. It was all written, recorded and produced within a couple of months. The title of the album took way longer to come up with and that doesn’t blow my knickers off to be honest!

Atavist: You can hear a dizzying amount of influences and undercurrents running through Sunlight Service Group — from early pioneers that stuck to the frayed edges like Syd and Roky, some serious folk and rural tangents, even some straight-up, though off-beat, pop hooks. It’s all stewed into a unique sound that, to me, borders on ‘progressive’ in execution and result. Does that ‘progressive’ idea make you cower in fear of a gold lamé cape and histrionics? Is it time for prog to lose the baggage and get back to embracing pushing and stretching the edges of about any ‘genre?’ I will add a caveat, since the word ‘prog’ conjures up all kinds of misinformation that, to me, an album like The Red Krayola’s (who I can feel in here) The Parable of Arable Land is as much a prog album as it is a ‘psych classic’ or bellwether.
Will: Personally, I’m a bit more into the late 60′s American Psyche than the English stuff … I love the Floyd More album or Hawkwind (Lemmy era) but most other British Psyche is all a bit jolly for my liking with its whistles and bells. Most of the American stuff seemed to have more menace about it. Prog rock, to me, seemed something in-between … a sort of buffering computer that had to come up with scrambled code to find its way. […] Pink Floyd were buffering between losing Syd and coming up with Dark Side. That buffering is what we now call ‘prog.’ There seems a need to cling to the genre of ‘prog.’ I don’t really think it exists anymore, so you’re on the button with that one.
Peter: The early prog was great, a natural progression from the psychedelia of ’67-’68. It went a bit overblown by the mid-70’s. Some of it is good, some less so. There are bands still pushing boundaries with prog, but they aren’t in the mainstream. We’re not technical enough musically to be considered prog.

Atavist: There’s no getting around a fractured, skewed character to much of Sunlight Service Group, though it’s deadly serious music, in execution and construction. Nothing in your work veers to kooky or goofy, but you do, thankfully, avoid the center. But “A Great Little Bomb” seems almost ‘played straight,’ ‘straight’ in a sort of Stan Ridgway take on rural folk rock: more bog, swamp and lost highway than pastoral fields. Was there a conscious effort to play that up, at least in one spot, since it’s obviously a tangent that flavors your sound?
Peter: I don’t think there was much conscious effort to be anything. The only conscious decision was to make a mostly acoustic album. Unconsciously, I think obvious influences seeped in and I think some of it’s like nothing I’ve heard before.
Will: Hahahahahaha! Stan Ridgway? Camouflage? That’s ACE! “A Great Little Bomb” was sort of a song I couldn’t finish, but the title was from a TV program called Future Weapons when some army bloke was describing some sickening death device as “a great little bomb.” So I suppose there is, in a loose sense, a vague relationship to Stan Rigdway….

Atavist: With such a rich pot boiling, there must be some influences and touchstones that flavor the soup, but might not seem overt once Sunlight Service Group gets done stirring them in. Any influences that might surprise the consumer?
Will: Oh yes … I’m personally a huge Keith Floyd fan. I’m also (possibly) the only person on Earth with a cook book signed by Robert Plant! There are too many influences to mention musically, but one inspiration for the ‘Lo Fi’ approach to recording, for me, has always been early Beck albums like One Foot in the Grave and Stereo Pathetic Soul Manure. Proof that you don’t need to spend time and money to make a classic.
Peter: I would say Beck is an influence. Will likes a bit of hip hop … only the good stuff, Dr. Octagon, etc. … Paul Simonon of The Clash inspired my bass line for “Ariel Tweeto.” There’s lots of influences outside the 60’s-70’s palette, some less obvious than others.

Atavist: At the end of “Ariel Tweeto” you proclaim ‘enough with the Gypsy music.’ There is a very gypsy feel to Sunlight Service Group, even if it’s a mythological, fever dream-like take on the word with its own peculiar baggage. Does Sunlight Service Group identify with the ‘Gypsy troubadour’?
Peter: I stole that line from a Sonic Assassins’ (Hawkwind) EP. A very stoned Bob Calvert is trying to get Dave Brock’s attention while he’s noodling away on his guitar. That’s when Calvert delivers the line ‘enough with the gypsy music’ or words to that effect. So that’s why I said it. We just happened to have it recording, when Will was ‘noodling’ on his guitar, and decided to use it as a link between songs.
Will: I found that tuning to open G allows an Eastern sound when strummed a certain way, whether it be “Eastern-y” or Eastern European. We live in an area of London that has a huge Turkish community. I wanted to make something loosely mimicking […] what I might imagine it may sound like, but was too lazy to learn, which became “Ariel Tweeto.” I have not a Gypsy bone in me. I’m impatient. We made it quick. Our next album will be a full band recorded live which, hopefully, will sound as we play live. When we play live we’re a lot heavier, we sound more like a stoner rock band.

by Mr. Atavist