The "On Mondays I listen to..." album of the week is Cutty Flam's sophomore album, Shapes of Sound (May 2017). The trio's new full-length album was released on May 26th at The Hi Hat in Los Angeles, California. Cutty Flam's Shapes of Sound is a retro, prom rock/punk album for the lover of slick 1950s grooves and weird candy-coated, rockabilly-twisted daydreams.
Cutty Flam is a rock n' roll/prom punk band from the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley, CA. Featuring Cutty (vocals/guitar), Chewy Lewy (vocals/bass), and Bang Bangs (vocals/drums), Cutty Flam fuses retro nostalgia with futuristic sounds reminiscent of space-age Orbit City. The band describes their music as, "with a tinge of Spanish language vocals it mixes genres to produce their very own sonic signature, and accurately reflects their Angeleno upbringing".
As a follow-up to their debut album Robot Heart (September 2014), Cutty Flam's Shapes of Sound is prom rock at its finest. And not the lame prom, the cool kind like when Marty McFly visits 1955 in Back to the Future and introduces rock n' roll to his parents' high school dance. Only cooler. Shapes of Sound is infused with surf twang guitars and tantalizing vocals. The listener is transported back to the 1950s/60s with heard influences such as Ritchie Valens, Roy Orbison, The Supremes, and Dick Dale. Cutty Flam creates a gorgeous blend of swinging big band music and crooning lullabies with a personal punkie west coast twist.
1. Sometimes - 02:34
"It's gotta be rock n' roll."
“Sometimes” is the first song on Cutty Flam’s Shapes of Sound. The track opens with Bang Bangs' pulsing drums, featuring the snare and floor tom, in combination with Cutty's reverberated guitar riff and Chewy Lewy's steady bass. The riff quickly transitions into an instrumental version of the song's chorus and the heavy tom rhythm is exchanged for a similar beat on the ride cymbal. At 00:26, Cutty's rolling, smooth voice is heard joining the mix. The vocals feel as if they are bursting with excited energy, which is probably due to the smile that you can hear on Cutty's face. One of the reasons that this album is so excellent is because you can hear the soul in the trio's playing. Cutty Flam obviously loves what they do.
At 01:11, "Sing it with me now" cues Bang Bangs and Chewy Lewy to join in on the "Uh huh huh yeah" chorus. This gives a playful atmosphere that transforms at 01:30 into a science fiction, zombie-robots-walking-the-earth, vocal break. Bang Bang's voice doubles as an instrument during this bridge, as Cutty's vocals help to build back into the chorus. The track ends with staccato rhythm for all the instruments, hesitating on the last hit and then fading with a surf whammy on the guitar.
2. Getting Closer - 03:11
Bang Bangs begins "Getting Closer" with a quarter note based rhythm of ride cymbal, kick drum, and tambourine on her kit. With the first strum of guitar at 00:11, the song swells. Hello, spaghetti western heaven. Palm-muted, dripping wet, spring reverb guitar.
"Did you hear that the sky is falling 'round you?
And it's near, your heart it hurts so much, you're nearly there."
Flowing vocals join the tremolo guitar and the track transforms with a bit more of a grounding feeling. Cutty Flam's "Getting Closer" has an enlightening and transcendent ambience that is emphasized with the closing lyrics, "You are my farewell, say goodbye". Strong vocals take the listener floating into the universe above, as the track waves "so long" to the people down below.
3. Don't - 03:06
The third track on Cutty Flam's Shapes of Sound opens with Chewy Lewy's bass groove and Bang Bang's drums. Transitioning perfectly from the previous track, "Don't" feels like a resolution to "Getting Closer". At 00:16, guitar glides into the mix with continuous vocals over the top, tying the track together. "Don't" seems to be a romantic she loves me/she loves me not serenade. The tug-of-war mood is demonstrated during the chorus between Bang Bangs' and Cutty's vocals. Bang Bangs' voice is a femme fatale angel as she sings innocent "Shala Shala ooh ooh ahoo" and sighs into the next verse.
"Could you see that you weren't so good to me,
Even though I was your faithful?
You stabbed me deep, so very deep.
My heart is done, you were my only one, you were."
02:17 gives a driving tempo with distorted guitar, prominent bass, and snare-heavy drums. From here, the song builds to the end with increasing vocals and growing, frustrated distortion in the guitar. The final chorus joins back in at 02:45 with full lyrics from Cutty. The listener is teased as the expected "ahoo" turns into an "ah-lone".
"So don’t you, don’t you leave me alone,
Don’t you, don’t you walk out the door,
Don’t you, don’t you look like you did,
Don’t you, don’t you walk all alone."
4. Let's Go to Heaven - 02:33
“One, two I want you to hit it,
Three, four better lock your door,
Five, six always go to heaven,
And make it, and make it, and make it, and make it count.”
"Let's Go to Heaven" begins with a tremolo guitar reminiscent of Dick Dale's Misirlou. Walking bass leads the direction of the song, followed by a tremolo slide down the guitar into the vocals. Bang Bangs is the lead vocalist on "Let's Go to Heaven", this time with more grit in her voice while still holding onto the feminine spark which she so naturally embodies. During the verses, low brass and saxophones give a fast jazzy vibe to the song that makes the listener want to shake and dance all night long. At 00:58 Cutty joins in with repeated "mira mira mira me baby", or "look at me baby". At 01:32, the guitar and low brass drop out, making room for a bass solo leading into the final build. The music seems to sail more at this point, with the song's arrangement becoming the highlight of the track. Listen closely, the low brass isn't alone. Cutty follows the brass with his "oh no no"s matching their hits. The guitar, bass, and drums transition back into the opening Misirlou feeling for the remainder of the song.
5. Runaway - 05:13
I'll run away with Cutty Flam any day.
Not only is the music video to "Runaway" fantastic, and definitely one of the coolest I have seen this year, the track is a stand alone hit.
"Runaway" opens with smooth vocals and guitar, quickly picking up into a full band riff. The sustained guitar at the beginning of the track evolves into a complex palm-muted progression. A call-and-answer vocal pattern is introduced between Cutty and Bang Bangs. At 01:11, the percussion provides a vibe similar to Hal Blaine's signature kick-kick-kick-snare-repeat pattern found in The Ronettes' "Be My Baby", later used in songs like The Jesus And Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" or The Clash's "The Card Cheat". Read more about the pattern here.
"Runaway, darling don't stay,
Oh baby runaway, darling don't stay,
Don't miss this chance for true romance,
Oh honey, I thought we had a chance."
The first time I heard this song, I was singing along before it was even over. The lyrics on "Runaway" are so damn catchy, yet so beautiful. At 02:41, the tempo speeds up and the song starts "running" with cohesive backup vocals, whistling, and lyrics. As the guitar continues the complex palm-muted picking, the bass grooves with an impressive strut. Strings appear at 04:12, creating a mesmerizing whirlwind at 04:20 that reminds the listener of Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Science Fiction/Double Feature".
6. Little Bits - 03:44
"Little Bits" is the sixth song on Cutty Flam's Shapes of Sound. I absolutely love the bass in this song. Chewy Lewy does a great job throughout the entire album in knowing when to be the steady "rock" that the band depends on, and when to have a bit of fun while still holding the rhythm true. The opening of the song also includes soft vocals, courtesy of Bang Bangs, and raindrops-sounding electric guitar.
"Just a little bit, take a little bit of my love with you...
So leave a little bit, just a little bit of your love with me..."
Between the throbbing bass and saxophones, and the hesitating rhythm, "Little Bits" becomes a jam that the listener wants to sway to. From 02:33 to the end, the brass melody in "Little Bits" could be a theme given to the martyr in the ending of a melancholic film. I love it.
7. If You Go - 02:25
Cutty Flam's "If You Go" is nostalgic of the 1950s hits. "If You Go" combines the feeling of retro TV dinners and live audience television shows with classic western movies. The song works to create multiple layers of color, from the surf-ish riff on the guitar, to the rumbling bass, to the "wah wah vocals", and to the rim clicks and driving toms on the drums.
"Cause if you want all my lovin',
Said if you need all my kisses too,
Then don’t you be cruel to me darlin’,
Cause I need you, oh yes I do."
8. Continental Creep - 03:46
"Continental Creep" is the final track on Shapes of Sound. Starting with a wet, reverberated guitar, primal drums, and big band-esque saxophones, "Continental Creep" transforms into an eerie chant similar to Marlene Dietrich's "Hot Voodoo" in Blonde Venus (1932). The vocals at 00:42 pull the listener's body back and forth in a hypnotic sway, building to the chorus at 01:02. From here, the "Continental Creep" becomes a frantic dance. After a quick and more modern break at 01:20, influences like Ray Charles and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates can be heard. A fantastic tremolo (pick slide?) leads back into the chant with a transfixing saxophone solo at 02:00. "Continental Creep" is the perfect melding of old and new, and an appropriately swingin' way to leave an album too.
As I listened to Cutty Flam's Shapes of Sound for the first time, laying in my bathtub because I was bummed about not being able to go to their album release party, I couldn't help but think that the entire album would be the perfect soundtrack to a quirky, science fiction film. From the dripping reverb, to the new twist on a retro sound, Cutty Flam is a trio that is well-versed in what they do. Cutty, Bang Bangs, and Chewy Lewy are artists in the way that not only do they generate their own musical presence, but they also construct a world for their sound to inhabit. One can't help but love the fact that Cutty Flam embraces the DIY element with open arms from writing music, to drawing promotional graphics, to designing props for their films/music videos.
Cutty Flam’s Shapes of Sound is available for digital download/streaming on Spotify and iTunes. The album is also available to purchase for pre-order as a cassette tape from Burger Records' online store.
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(The photos featured above are not mine and belong to the respected photographers and artists.)