As Barnsley’s Stray Targets have just started putting down tracks for what will be a new EP released later this year, I thought I’d take a brief look back at last year’s long player, Den of Thieves; and as the band site Tom Waits as a bit of an influence, my hopes were set high.
The album opens with the title track and takes that overdone guitar pop sound and throws so many interesting new ingredients at it that it becomes something instantly likable and exciting. There’s a bloody horn section for instance, females backing singers a-la Gimmie Shelter, a bit of an Eastern European beat to it and most surprisingly, there is even a bit of a Brian Ferry warble to Shaun McMaster voice.
In fact, his voice is a strange one indeed. One minute he sounds like Regular Joe Indie Fella; the next he even has hints of Word/Inferno Friendship Society’s Jack Terricloth or The Levellers, which is a great sound to have.
Following is Sixty Silver Wishes. It’s more of the same but with added changes of pace throughout – like a steam train chugging up and then down a hill. Love Will Break Your Fall is slower paced with some sweet Bad Seeds-esque organ and hymnal backing vocals but then switches to an almost – dare I say it – a Razorlight-like chorus.
A highpoint for the album are a handful of tracks that feature midway. First there is The Extraordinary Inabilities of Mr. Jingle with its lyrics reminiscent of Morrissey, set against a very loose jingly guitar jam that seems to slow down and speed up at random will; and then there is Where Poets Hide which is a dark slow brooding number with backing vox ripped right out of The Special’s Ghost Town and then mid-way the track changes into a different beast altogether like a getaway car out of control and brilliant female vocals to boot. Regicide has a drunken snarl of a lead vocal set against a late-night, back alley slinky guitar.
There are lots of great ideas at play here but sometimes it feels like the band is holding back a little. There are elements of gypsy folk and also post punk. Tracks like Walking Stick Shotgun (has some cool synths) and Scallywaggy Winds (Roxy Music saxophone anyone?) see the band sticking too close to the well trodden indie-pop template, which is a shame when they are brimming with great ideas.
Closing track Bread + Butter is a bit of an anti-climax but the preceding Man of October is the real gem here and a much more appropriate album closer. Seemingly split into three chapters, the first starts off with gentle spiraling guitar and then turns into a bit of a stomper, utilising those guest female vocals to their full potential. The second part sees those Ghost Town vocals return, backed by what sounds like some Russian war movie samples (?) and then the final part which takes the track to an uplifting finale which actually reminded me of Hope of the States in the process.
I’d love to see Stray Targets go further down route of gypsy folk inspired indie as that is where they stand out from the crowd and most definitely where their strengths lay. The amount of different sounds at play here is brilliant – the sax, horns, synths, and credit must be given for the brilliant use of backing vocals by both the band and the guest female vocalsist. In fact, it would be a real treat to see all of this at play in a live setting too. Stray Targets… you have my attention. I’ll be looking forward to see what the band come up with for their forthcoming EP. They say it is going to be ‘a three track concept EP’, so I reckon it could be pretty fine record, what with all of those ideas condenced down into just a few tracks.
The as yet untitled EP will be released later in 2013. In the meantime, you can listed to The Stray Targets previous releases on their bandcamp page thestraytargets.bandcamp.com and follow them on their facebook page.