Craig Angus is a fast worker. 2019’s delightfully scrappy ‘Revision Ballads’ was only released in February of that year yet the band went back into the studio merely a couple of months later to record their second album for Lost Map.
Where ‘Revision Ballads’ was a spiky assault through early Pavement and Parquet Courts ‘Weird Country’ has softened some of the rough edges and sees the band return with a more sophisticated take on the 90s slacker sound.
Influences are still worn quite firmly on sleeves. The Stephen Malkmus-isms in Angus’s vocals are still present – the drawn out phrasing, little high pitched yelps and so laid back he’s horizontal approach. The lackadaisical country of opener “Karaoke” with it’s slide guitar intro, bar room piano and Range Life pacing are married with references to hometown Glasgow. There are some lovely backing vocals, a welcome addition on this record that, at times, recall Teenage Fanclub.
“Taking The Four” is a tight, controlled, indie rocker with chugging guitar verses that almost play Talking Heads ‘Once In A Lifetime’ and an anthemic chorus. The stream of consciousness lyrics, complete with references to Jason Statham, are good fun.
When you’re holed up at home, anxious of going out you need the sort of warm embrace provided by “Old Country” which has hints of ‘Cut Your Hair’ with it’s “ooh ooh ooh” backing vocals but also indulges in some expansive Built To Spill-like guitars.
It’s not all basic strumming though. “The Puppeteer” is a playful rhythmic and structural exercise that recalls the ambitious pop of The New Pornographers. It features an extremely satisfying break and yelp.
“Merrie” brings back those gorgeous slide guitars, for a shimmering piece of indie jangle, as does the dream-like centrepiece “Battlefield Boss Dream”, with its bassline harvested from Neil Young, acres of space and repetition. It’s perfect for staring out of a window to. “Screaming Speed Machine” isn’t as wild as the name suggests – a hazy piano accompanied song with those Teenage Fanclub-esque backing vocals making another appearance, and a ripping guitar solo.
While the spikes are filed down there are still moments here that suggest Angus and co still love to make a racket. “There’s No Time To Waste” being case in point. It’s the shortest track on ‘Weird Country’ and also one of the most enjoyable, thanks to the dirty guitar sounds and great shout along chorus. “Monument” also works as a bridge between ‘Revision Ballads’ and the more expansive sounds of ‘Weird Country’. It has a lot of swagger but doesn’t fuzz out in the way it might have done had it featured on the debut. It indulges, again, in those bar room pianos that we became acquainted with on the opener. This, aligned with the rock n roll reverb on the vocals gives it an almost Bruce Springsteen feel.
Title track ‘Weird Country’ is another highlight. Unusually beginning with the quite excellent chorus, it’s a bold and confident piece of folk rock, with tinges of Parquet Courts and some quite awesome guitar tones.
For all the Americana “Now To Levitate”is the closest thing here to what you might expect from a Scottish indie band. The jaunty jangle pop strumming is, however, still set alongside those same luscious expansive Doug Martsch style lead guitar lines.
“I always save the best to last” states Angus on “Now To Levitate” and perhaps he’s not wrong. “The International” features some fun singalong multiple vocals, ending each line “it’s the same struggle” and a delightfully wonky guitar solo that sounds almost like a Stylophone.
So, a largely satisfying second album then. Where do Savage Mansion go from here? Having added a sheen to the sound and sophistication to the songwriting Angus could be on the verge of something truly special. There’s a fine balance that must be struck not to move too far into MOR territory, but Angus seems to be too canny a writer to allow that to happen.
‘Weird Country’ is out now via Lost Map Records
You may enjoy this if you like:
Pavement, Hefner, Built To Spill, REM, Parquet Courts, Teenage Fanclub