Three albums deep, Cool Ghouls are hitting their stride nicely. They’ve always had a good handle on the germ of West Coast rock that’s practically embedded in the pavement of their native San Francisco, now they’re just working to perfect it. With Kelley Stoltz on board, they’re coming pretty close, that’s for sure. The veteran engineer and producer (Thee Oh Sees, The Mantles, Sonny & The Sunset) helps the band find that eternal sunset, tightening the tracks on Animal Races into the kind of album that breezes by effortlessly and feels like its always just been a part of the West Coast jangle-pop lexicon. Where their previous album, A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye found them playing up the Beatles/Kinks harmonies, now they’re leaning full-bore into their Dead/Byrds/Quicksilver Messenger Service motions and feeling like they’re nailing the amount of carefree composure and sunlit harmonies necessary to pick up that yoke some forty years on.
What really makes it feel right, is that they’re not pedaling sunshine and cheer. The Byrds knew how to make a 12-string sing and lift your heart, but they also knew that a bittersweet soul makes a catchy chorus stick with listeners long after that earworm fades. Animal Races has that lilting sadness running through its waters, evident in the forlorn sighs and yearning pedal steel of “When You Were Gone” and “(If I Can’t Be) The Man” or the world weary lyrics of “Days.” If you want to be the kind of person to nitpick, no there’s nothing revolutionary happening on Animal Races. The sound has been around and, as I mentioned, Cool Ghouls are merely perfecting their take on it, and honing a crisp version of their heroes’ headway. But no one says that the walls all need to crumble for a record to be great. Animal Races succeeds because it sets a tone and blooms as an album of skilled tradesmen finding sweetness in sadness.
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