Sunday, June 2, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1741: Spiritual Cramp

As of Friday, I am officially on holiday! This feels pretty good, even though today I am doing what I would do on any given Sunday – puttering around the house and doing the laundry.

I’m also writing this next music review. The 2020s albums extend their string to four with this next record. This is also the second album in a row that I purchased through Bandcamp.

Disc 1741 is…Self-Titled

Artist: Spiritual Cramp

Year of Release: 2023

What’s up with the Cover?  It took me a while to figure out this innovatively (in this case poorly) framed photo. It is of a person in some kind of hiking or rain gear facing a wooden wall with some graffiti on it.

Art should always force us to ask questions. In this case that question is “does this photo suck or blow?” My answer is, “yes”.

How I Came To Know It: The boring way I discover a fair chunk of new music. I read a review and it sounded interesting enough to check out.

How It Stacks Up: This is my only Spiritual Cramp album, so it can’t stack up.

Rating: 4 stars

Foot firmly on gas pedal. That is what it is to listen to Spiritual Cramp, a post-punk band that leans in fast and aggressive from the opening track and doesn’t let up for the next 10 tracks and breathless 25 minutes. This is what music would sound like if it were able to generate centrifugal force, a motorcycle of sound leaning hard into every corner, trusting the speed of the approach to pull you through to the next chord.

While the sensibility is punk, Spiritual Cramp pulls from a lot of different musical styles. The guitar is pure rock riff action, slung low and played with a sneer. The pace and urgency of the forward-leaning beat feels New Wave, and they’re not afraid of some pop inspired “hey! hey!” backing vocals, a la the Beaches. They even throw in hand claps when they’re warranted. A number of songs incorporate a Reggae backbeat that will surprise you with how well it fits in with the other elements.

Singer Michael Bingham has a voice that straddles the line between anthemic and apocalyptic, reminding me a bit of a cross between HMLTD and fellow San Francisco band The Growlers (If you don’t know these two bands, check them out. They are great). When the songs lean towards pop he sounds disconcertingly like Brandon Flowers. I don’t like this similarity (I’m not a Killers fan, and I like Brandon Flowers even less) but here it is OK. Imagine if the Killers had more of an edge and were generally, you know…better.

The band sings about all manner of unhealthy experiences, including anxiety, drug addiction and unchecked rampant consumerism. The best example of the latter (and the record’s best song) is “Slick Rick”. Its chorus is a faux celebration of overdoing it, as our titular character expresses his desires:

“I want the biggest house on the block with a yard
I wanna fly everywhere and put the miles on my credit card
Four story house and a king-sized bed
I wanna pure breed dog – I wanna live in debt”

On “Can I Borrow Your Lighter?” they double down on anxiety, with a painfully straightforward refrain of “I'm always stressed out/Always annoyed/I'm always tired”. It isn’t exactly Tennyson but the raw delivery from Bingham and the crashing beat puts you right in the unhappy place he describes.

The record ends with “Addict,” which depicts that harsh moment when our narrator decides they are no longer going to let someone is pulling them down with their bad habits. It is a harsh “you can’t save everyone” moment, with more than a little vitriol. The song is only two minutes long, but despite the short, sharp and aggressive content, you can tell the relationship was many painful years in the making before the final “I’m done” moment arrived.

Overall, this record is powerful, energized and unapologetic. I liked every song and loved several. This one will be on rotation in the collection for years to come.

Best tracks: Blowback, Slick Rick, Talkin’ On the Internet, Catch a Hot One, Can I Borrow Your Lighter, Addict

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