The Strumbellas – Hope (Album Review)

The Strumbellas – Hope (Album Review)

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Cue. Click. Play…”I got guns in my head, and they won’t go / Spirits in my head, and they won’t go….” Melodically infectious and lyrically schizophrenic, that is how Hope, The Strumbellas’ third studio album, begins. After all, the catchy album opener, entitled “Spirits,” has been enjoying regular airplay on many radio stations since its release last year as a single; so surely, its melody has long ago lodged in the heads of those who have heard this song even before the release of its parent album.

Released on April 22, 2016, Hope then continues with The Strumbellas’ brand of Pastoral Folk/Pop as “Shovels & Dirt” plays, whose slower tempo is soothing, yet whose sing-along chorus and choral backup are equally catchy. The reflective mood flows into the initially unassuming “We Don’t Know,” featuring the same combo of brooding lead vocals and unison chorus, backed up by a buildup of instruments that starts with subtle acoustic guitar strums and chordal piano hams, punctuated by a somber solo string section, and then bursts into a full-blown arena-ready anthem.

The midtempo “Wars” lifts the album up a notch, infusing a sense of danceability with the effective use of a staccato-style bassline. The tempo then accelerates a bit with the Country-flavored “Dog,” whose 2/4 time signature will inevitably make the head of the listener bob and feet tap. The Strumbellas then unleash their old spirits and poignant sides in the dirge-introed “The Hired Band” as they switch to something like a throwback to ’70s-era pub-jukebox Country Rock balladry, in the veins of the likes of The Eagles (“Desperado”), Creedence Clearwater Revival (“Someday Never Comes”), The Band (“Let the Night Fall”), and Crosby Stills Nash & Young (“Teach Your Children”).

Certainly the highlight of the album in terms of poppiness and danceability, the sunny and fast-track “Young & Wild,” which features a livelier and angular electric-guitar rhythm, sounds like it was catapulted from The Strumbellas’ more-electrified previous album. Its guitar adlib may also remind the initiated of the equally memorable “All These Things That I’ve Done” by the American Alternative Rock band The Killers. The band then reverts to its folky side with the serene acoustic plucks that accompany the breezy vocals of the violin-layered “The Night Will Save Us.” And then there is the similarly slow “I Still Make Her Cry,” whose vocal drawl may recall Dave Pirner and his band Soul Asylum (“Homesick”) when he is being lyrically despondent and musically minimalistic. The penultimate track, “David,” stands out with its Waltz rhythm. Finally, Hope closes with the quiet, somber sentiment of “Wild Sun.”

Formed in in 2008, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, The Strumbellas are Simon Ward (vocals, guitar), David Ritter (vocals, keyboards), Jon Hembrey (lead guitar), Isabel Ritchie (violin), Darryl James (bass), and Jeremy Drury (drums). To date, the band has released three studio albums: the more tempo-aggressive, bluegrass-like Alternative Country sound of 2012’s My Father and The Hunter, which finds the band more in the same sonic sphere as Mumford & Sons; the conspicuously electrified 2013’s We Still Move on Dance Floors; and the more confident, textured, and lyrically developed Hope.

In the very engaging Alternative Country/Pastoral Pop prairie currently populated by bands like Mumford & Sons (“I Will Wait”), Fleet Foxes (“White Winter Hymnal”), Walk Off the Earth (“Red Hands”), Bastille (“Pompeii”), Imagine Dragons (“Radioactive”), Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros (“Home”), Of Monsters and Men (“Little Talks”), and The Lumineers (“Ho Hey”), The Strumbellas is a worthy addition, and a significant contender for longevity at that. The strength, confidence, and fully developed sound of their latest offering is an attestation of this anticipated enduring career for this group of fine Canadian musicians. CrypticRock gives Hope 4 out of 5 stars.

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aLfie vera mella
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Born in 1971, in Metro Manila, Philippines, aLfie vera mella is a healthcare worker, singer/songwriter, and editor/writer. He was the frontman of the ’90s-peaking Philippine Alternative Rock / New Wave band Half Life Half Death, which released a full-length album and several singles on Viva Records. aLfie worked at Diwa Scholastic Press as an editor/writer of academic textbooks and supplementary magazines, focusing on Science & Technology and English Grammar & Literature. In 2003, aLfie migrated to Canada; he has since been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He works full-time at a healthcare institution, while serving as the associate contributing editor of Filipino Journal—a local community newspaper in Winnipeg—tackling Literature, Languages, Cultures, Lifestyles, and Music. aLfie has been a music journalist since the mid-’90s for various print magazines as well as websites. He started writing album reviews for Cryptic Rock in 2015. In 2016, aLfie published Part One (Literature & Languages and Their Cultural Significance) of his Essay Series, Can You Hear the Sound of a Falling Leaf?; in 2021, his first book of poetry, Pag-íhip sa Dáhon ng Kahápon [Blowing Leaves of Yesterday]. In his spare time, he enjoys reading books and listening to music. aLfie is a dedicated father to his now 13-year-old son, Evawwen; and a loving husband to Kathryn Mella, who herself moonlights also as a writer aside from holding a degree in Bachelor of Arts, Major in Sociology.

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