A submissive tray of olives from The Czars. Can you believe Best Of is in fact a compilation of what they perceive to be their finest creations? Described as slowcore, their dreamy, country-esque sound is definitely having a revival with all the current indie-folk festivals such as End of The Road and Green Man. Out on double vinyl LP and CD from Bella Union.
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I am actually the perfect focus group for the Czars’ ‘Best Of’ record considering that A) I have never listened to this band in my short, contently meaningless life, so I need a good introduction, and B) I enjoy the sounds of sad twee pop. Hearing the final bars of “Val” is proof enough that this band of not-at-all festive indie dudes are too sombre to even lighten up when someone brings an xylophone to the table (citation needed, here -- though there are a lot of spooky keyboards and overwhelmingly loud pianos in these songs). I’m cool with that -- if you ask me, indie pop is supposed to promise excitement but deliver misery. The guitar melodies on the supposedly best Czars songs are bright but sluggish, like proto Camera Obscura, and vocalist John Grant hums his songs like he barely even believes in them. This is, on paper, a collection of the best songs I’ve ever heard.
In practice, it’s pretty good. The Czars were good at crafting modest pop songs that didn’t over-reach for the best hooks, but did land on some plaintive choruses and vocal harmonising that wouldn’t be out of place on a newer Low album. Grant’s lyrics are emotive to the point of self-parody, with clinical and thrown off lines like “If this is what you need then get used to depression” played over hard-worn acoustic strums that eventually give way to a groaning riff. The pain, my friends, the pain: it is real.
There are many different types of melodrama in this world, and as Gandalf the Grey once forewarned, none of them should be used lightly. Mostly, the Czars are in control of their sad songs, but there are certain melodies and keys that they try out and come up short on: I’m not one for the type of mud they’re slinging on “Side Effects”, a grandiose tune that screams with guitar noise and whispered vocal refrains to create a lamely pantomimic feel. I’m not here for that, really: I want to hear the Czars who are locked away in their bedroom and shutting the world out with their music, not performing it on the stage. The best songs they made are the ones that are grand but closed off, like the intensely lonely twang of “Killjoy”. Go big, but stay home. And keep it one on one, yeah?
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