Bop English, Constant Bop - album review: A joyous mix of folksy rock and exuberant pop

This is an album that restores faith in the sheer joy of music

This is an album that restores faith in the sheer joy of music
This is an album that restores faith in the sheer joy of music

As frontman of Texan combo White Denim, James Petralli has built a reputation for formidable eclecticism. But even their prodigal output can’t contain his wayward muse, judging by this wonderful solo debut by Petralli’s alter-ego Bop English.

Constant Bop is an album bursting with fun ideas that spiral off at tangents, from the folksy picking, pedal steel and high harmonies of “Falling at Your Feet” to the bustling pop charm of “Struck Matches”.

Some tracks, like the opening “Dani’s Blues (It Was Beyond Our Control)” are almost stupidly infectious, daring you not to play them again immediately. And some all but collapse under the weight of their own exultant joy in music, as when the funky shuffle “Sentimental Wilderness” sprouts layer upon layer of exuberant hooks and guitar licks, or the hypnotic, echoing pianos of “The Hardest Way” swell to swamp the vocal, while pedal steel surfs down the resulting wall of sound.

A similar effect happens with the vocal to “Struck Matches”, with words tumbling after one another, before a big, twangy guitar figure arrives to lasso the track to a standstill. Throughout, the impression is of a talent too fertile to remain silent, but sometimes tripping over itself to convey another idea, another sound combination or harmony, even when celebrating slacker serendipity, as in “Trying”.

In “Have I Got It Wrong”, stalking electric piano, whooshing synth and clamorous drums are quite busy enough before the multitracked, syncopated pianos are added to the mix, sweeping the track into a whirling vortex of sound – which sounds worse than it sounds, so to speak.

But for the most part, this is an album that restores faith in the sheer joy of music. It’s no surprise that Constant Bop should close with Petralli singing, over the infectious, jazzy lilt of “Long Distance Runner”, about the need to experience more. Not that, on this showing, there can be much more left, musically.

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