Published Aug 17, 2016Cool Ghouls have insisted they are not a retro act, but like it or not, they are.
That's not a bad thing. The music world needs the occasional retro act, and these San Francisco rockers do it phenomenally. There may be no other current band that captures the '60s this convincingly; zone out and you'll forget that you're listening to an album from 2016. With its jangly guitars, choral melodies, "oohs" and "ahs," and naked, bush-bearing subjects on the cover art, the band's third album, Animal Races, has all the trademarks of the era.
Taking their biggest cues from bands like the Troggs and the Monks, they add to their repertoire of breezy, sunny classic rock established on 2014's A Swirling Fire Burning Through the Rye and the previous year's self-titled debut. The lean, old-fashioned production suits it perfectly, and although the few resulting imperfections can seem amateurish, it's otherwise quite apparent that the band members know their way around their instruments. (Special compliments to the bass lines, which walk up and down these songs to back up the twangy chords and group harmonies wonderfully.)
There are shades of all sorts of '60s and some '70s groups — the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doors, the Yardbirds, the Velvet Underground and Fleetwood Mac come to mind — all with a distinct West Coast feel. Standouts include vintage rock'n'roll sing-along "Animal Races," the folksy "Days," swirling psych-rock tune "Time Capsule" and the clangy, dirty blues-rocker "Brown Bag."
However, there's not a ton here that doesn't hinge on the novelty of old-worldliness. As good as Cool Ghouls are at kicking it old school, it's hard to find them terribly deep and interesting beyond a mostly superficial appeal to nostalgia. Animal Races is an homage to a bygone era, and a terrific one at that, so while it's far more influenced than it could ever be influential, it does have the potential to inspire sentimentality among those who lived through the era to which it devotes itself, and to renew curiosity in rock's forebears among those who did not. (Empty Cellar)