Album Review: Cristobal And The Sea – Sugar Now

Sugar Now

cristobal and the seaReleased October 2nd 2015

Words: Nick Jaques

“I guess it fits with is being sweet and tender!” João suggests, to which Ale adds, “The title is playful and naïve, which is just who we are, and how we are with the music.”
The above is an excerpt from an interview with the band and I think this is probably how I would best describe Cristobal & The Sea; playful and naïve, with a walloping dose of passion sprinkled with refreshing, tropical flavours!

Their strengths lie in the diverse make-up of the band – with members from Portugal, Spain, Corsica and the UK – they truly make up an off-kilter and unassuming sound that feels both new and original. Following on from their first E.P. Peach Bells which was released in December last year, this is their debut album Sugar Now which delivers plenty of the above.

As a template, it seems like Cristobal & The Sea have been plotting their album by nestling inside the sounds of Sebastien Tellier’s Universe album, Paul Simon’s Graceland and I’m not sure about this comparison but to me I could hear the sounds of Sting and The Police on here. Fear not though for this is an album that engulfs the taste buds with a totally tropical taste!
Opener Counting Smiles sets the tone and mood in impressive style and conjures up lashings of tropical-infused guitar work outs with an emotive punch, strains of arresting flute play and impassioned vocal displays that just shoot out at you. It’s bold and immersive.
The Sebastien Tellier influences and hints of the Talking Heads and Sting/The Police continue to mix together in surprisingly convincing fashion. It shouldn’t work but it really does! The chemistry in the album contains strong distinctive vocals which are well balanced with mangled and jangly guitar riff work outs that go for the emotional jugular

Sunset Of Our Troubles consists of a gorgeous serving of endearing flute and shows both craft and depth in the band’s song writing. Imposing and grabbing vocals yet again deliver the goods.Fish Eye sees a strong African music influence take part in the proceedings of Sugar Now and further broadens a sound of their own. The previous name drops are all present here but they form their own sound beautifully. I can imagine the band chilling by the poolside and ordering round after round of mojitos and developing bronze tans in the process.
Just when you thought Cristobal & The Sea have run out of ideas, another eye-brow raiser is Bear Paws. It’s a different animal – and it shows that this album has the ability to shape-shift freely. A deep bass line provides a solid foundation and shards of glacial guitar help to construct darker textures and it’s builds to a climax in masterful fashion.

On behalf of the band, it’s a sign of artistic integrity to hear the flute being played on this album so regularly. In an age of the omnipresent digital music web and overcrowded production that has spurned numerous bland power-chord bands and artificial candy-coated pop, it’s refreshing to hear an instrument such as the flute being played in such a way that it reflects the core of the band’s songcraft.

Happy Living Things opens with sweet dub guitar licks and intertwines with those distinctive vocals which laden with warmth and balanced nicely with celestial flute play.
Next up is Legs Gone Feathers which builds up to another climax which grabs the listener out of nowhere – their vocal display builds and builds culminating in a care-free spasm combo of flute and jangly guitar. The track is over before you know it but leaves you wanting more. The passionate vocal display of “they want to buy you with their money, they want to buy your love” feels so involved and harmonies are executed with aplomb.

The album has such a random but joyous feel to it. The music wants to make you get lost in the “sugar” Cristobal & The Sea are giving out so freely. However, the track Out adopts a more restrained approach on the album and has more of a lukewarm feel to it but that’s not to say that it lacks any conviction. The atmosphere that Cristobal conjure in general on their eponymous debut means that this song slots in just fine on here – giving it an even balance.
It’s an original formula which Cristobal have honed well and definitely use it to their strengths.
Maryann picks up the pace and it reminds me a bit of The Go-Betweens and afro-beat music thrown into a blender and served with ice! Repetitive tribal vocal patterns saw above and beyond whilst joyous flute musings make it hard not to get caught up in the mix.

The last track, Miasma, sums up the album perfectly – warm African music vibes equipped with those impassioned vocals covering the canvas with an effortless technique. Impressive stuff.
Cristobal & The Sea are opening up people’s minds by combining the musical styles of bossa nova, afro-beat and indie in a way that is both compelling and evocative.
An album that will definitely give any a sceptic a sweet tooth.

Listen to Sunset Of Our Troubles here:
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