Helmed by enigmatic frontman SA Rawls, the ever-evolving Still Flyin' have been redefining indiepop since 2004, drawing inspiration from classic pop songwriting and great times with great friends.
On a Bedroom Wall sees the band streamlining their setup to bring a tight new ethos to their production and songcraft, while never denying their proclivity for fun and off-the-cuff ingenuity. Following on from the krautrock and new wave-influenced releases of 2011's Neu Ideas compilation, Still Flyin' have once again upped their game, mixing hook-heavy melodies with signature call-and-response chants and a double dose of rototoms.
The album's lead single, Travelin’ Man layers 80s production with profound longing and melancholy. The song speaks of the fraught dichotomy between wanderlust and domesticity — a regular experience for most touring musicians, but a sentiment beautifully stated here.
Spirits is a fun romp that nods to the band's 2009 antic-filled debut, Never Gonna Touch the Ground, mixing the slightly creepy pleas of a lonely ghost trying to get a girl to die and join his haunting escapades with irrepressible guitar hooks.
Perhaps the album's nostalgic apex, Surrender to Me longs for the romantic urgency of youth, framed with synths and dance grooves. Take These Streets revels in the small joys of the everyday such as walking around familiar streets, taking wrong turns and trying to get lost, highlighted by handclaps and a drumbeat worthy of Dancing in the Dark-era Springsteen. The album was recorded by Haima Marriott of Architecture in Helsinki fame and mixed by Wyatt Cusick who's worked extensively with Love is All. In keeping with the classic production values that are the album's essence, On a Bedroom Wall was mastered at Masterdisk in NYC by Scott Hull (Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Yuka Honda, Sting).
1. Elsie Dormer 2. Travelin' Man 3. Big Trouble in Little Alabama 4. Spirits 5. Cleat Talking 6. Surrender To Me 7. Camouflage Detection 8. Take These Streets 9. Candlemaker 10. Jacket In July
"Here's the fast facts: Still Flyin' are an indie pop band based in San Francisco, America. Like the Polyphonic Spree, they are a large band. They boast over 15 members, along with a shifting line-up of auxiliary members spread all across the globe. Core to the group is lead vocalist, and frontman Sean Rawlins, who founded the band way back in 2004.
The band's second album is called On A Bedroom Wall. And it totally rocks. It's full of easygoing indie pop songs that embrace swirling neon-coloured electronica, toe-tapping rhythms and very earnest, truthful songwriting. It also marks a move to a much more refined, pop-centred sound - the band previously embraced genres like reggae and rocksteady, and were famous for their shambolic, party-going atmosphere.
Nearly every song on On A Bedroom Wall is a hit with me, so it's hard to pick a favourite. 'Cleat Talking' is great fun because of its addictive bass line, and its affirmative lyrics about non-intellectual success - "I aint no Steven Hawking/My cleats do all the talking". Other highlights are 'Camoflauge Detection', 'Big Trouble in Little Alabama' and 'Travelin' Man'. Each song is as deliriously catchy as the last.
My only complaint about this album is a rather superficial one. The track 'Jacket in July' didn't sit well with me, because it features the chorus line "I don't wanna see, I don't wanna need/A jacket in July" - this feels wrong because it's so cold in July here in Australia. If the band truly want to crack the Down Under market, they might want to re-record the song as 'Jacket in January'! (But then maybe I'm interpreting it wrong... perhaps the song is about how weird it is when Rawlins travels overseas and experiences the different seasons? It's not really clear, I'd love some clarification.)
Final recommendation: Ultimately, there's no better way to say it - On A Bedroom Wall is all quality. Still Flyin' have got the balance between their old reggae style and their renewed sense of pop sensibility just right. They barely put a foot wrong on this release, pulling together every lesson they've learned since starting out in 2004 to make their most addictive set of songs yet. You don't want to miss this.
" Songs For the Nerdy
"Still Flyin’ have it down. Fronted by Sean Rawlins, Still Flyin’ tell the story of Sean’s migration from Georgia and his past life in established bands Je Suis France and Masters of The Hemisphere, to a new life in San Francisco and a break from the duress of playing music with professional aspirations.
So Still Flyin’ are a party band. Their debut show was as a 15 member plus reggae band. The good times that the band partied out on stage saw them tour Europe with a debut album (Never Gonna Touch The Ground) and find themselves associated with other sunshine troupes such as Architecture in Helsinki and The Polyphonic Spree.
For album two it all starts to get serious again. From A Bedroom Wall paints a glorious colour wheel of day-glo neon pop sounds and melancholy melodies. There’s enough interesting, Eighties influenced, sounds to be ‘on trend’ (even to be a sincere homage to the era), whilst the vocals have the hurt inflection of Jens Lekman. It’s the perfect mesh.
As it opens with ‘Elsie Dormer’ the prolonged build before a word is pronounced gives an ascent to warrant New Order comparisons and euphoric dance gestures.
First single ‘Travelling Man’ is a literal expression of the push and pull of stretching for success without wanting to unearth the foundations: “Lord I was born a travelling man/Half of me is good, the other sad. This waiting in silence, we’ve lost our springtime/This standing on one leg, feels like a lifetime.” There’s anguish aplenty, supported by twinkled keyboard lines before the chorus sprints into emphasised drum triplets and ghostly backing vocals. Female harmonies (provided by Sean’s wife and fellow band member Mindy Schweitzer-Rawls) add a playful boy-girl interexchange, even as the melodies twist in insecurity.
‘Big Trouble In Little Alabama’ is overt joy whilst current single ‘Spirits’ (apparently recorded for a delayed/binned horror flick) threads a series of keyboard and guitar riffs under Rawlins’s decrees of “One ghost is not enough… You want to see the world/Without touching it,” whilst sounding not unlike David Byrne. As he outlines his rationale for haunting as a pair in an act of love, his constant stretching toward the unreachable again surfaces.
There are overt reggae moments of old and much of the bass lines and rhythms, though more motorik, still bounce across octaves and swing. On A Bedroom Wall is an album founded upon European insecurity and masked with American good time vibes for balance. Its impact is its conflicts and depth of emotion, akin to Metronomy’s Nights Out or even the way Morrissey made sarcasm a form of terrace poetry (the Morrissey-Orange Juice style mesh in ‘Camouflage Detection’ is musically perfect). Rawlins and his assembled musicians are masters of exploring conflict and On A Bedroom Wall makes clear that the party is once more over, the come down has painfully dawned and the struggle is on display for all to hear.
This album may not be bigger than its predecessors, but hopefully Rawlins he may get enough attention to send him on the road again.
With an album as touching as this, we’re put in his predicament; attempt to build on something that may indeed be unsurpassable or leave it behind and try something else with all the energy of a new project. On A Bedroom Wall is a work of music that won’t be matched this year for its pained beauty.
" Drowned In Sound
"From their start as a kind of joke reggae-meets-the-Grateful Dead mega-band (up to 16 members at one point with more joining them on-stage at times), it would have been easy to write Still Flyin' off as a kind of misguided attempt at filling a niche no one would ever want filled. Oddly though, even their first records were good in a kind of weird way thanks to the cheerful spirit and leader Sean Rawls' way with a catchy tune. Once the group began to shed members and change direction, things got more interesting. They left behind the good-time grooves of their early records, and on their 2010 EP, Party in Motion, added uptempo dance beats, more classically concise song structures, Motorik rhythms, and some welcome melancholy. By the time of 2012's On a Bedroom Wall, there were no traces of the group's early days left and instead they sound like the house band at John Hughes' night at the local all-ages club. The songs wrap their warm heat in icy synths, the bass guitar thunders like Peter Hook's did, the songs are twitchily danceable, two people are credited with playing rototoms, and the production walks the fine line between slickly chilly and openly warm. Rawls and the cast of singers match the setting with vocals that sound innocent and earnest but with a slight sense of detachment that only true melancholy can provide. There are no jokes left to be told, no light-hearted silliness; On a Bedroom Wall is a serious album about heartbreak and sadness that's only occasionally bright. That being said, it's still a fun album to listen to, since Rawls has a way with a catchy melody and there are plenty of hooks. And while most of the songs hang in that moody area between ballad and dancefloor filler, some of them have some bounce. "Spirits" has a punchy beat and singalong chorus perfect for singing as you dance, "Cleat Talking" has a stutter-step groove that probably comes from Rawls checking out some Afro-pop (and Matthew Wilder), "Travelin' Man" has a driving beat that is a nice expansion of their Neu! fixation. Mostly though, Rawls and his large group of musicians stick to the middle ground where beats are a little sad and the choruses swell majestically, then fade out in a jangle of single-note guitar lines, keyboard swoops, and teardrops. On a Bedroom Wall is an impressive record from a "joke" band, full of emotion and hooks, which should get them taken seriously by lovers of '80s-influenced sounds done in a thoroughly modern manner. Rating: 4 stars" All Music