Tuesday, October 22, 2013

REVIEW: Saint Max and the Fanatics- Saint Max Is Missing and the Fanatics Are Dead

It seems to me that young Max Syed-Tollan absorbs various musical influences, runs them through his special secret Saint Max musical blender tool thingy, and turns out energetic, intriguing, and refreshingly joyful pop music.  It also is rather noisy, but I'm quite sure that is a good thing.

I first learned of Max when he was performing over a year ago as Saint Max of Galloway.  The teenager has since moved to Glasgow, acquired a band, and now performs as Saint Max and the Fanatics.  Their debut LP, Saint Max Is Missing and the Fanatics Are Dead, was released this week.  And from the opening track, "Soul Surrender", it is very clear that this is not your normal debut.  There is no evidence of the "gee, we wonder if anyone will like us", or "let's hold back a little to see if this is what people want".  No, this is more like Joe Strummer and company deciding ... well ... fuck it, this is what we are, love us or leave us.  We get Max's swooping vocals, frenetic choruses and horns (yes, real live horns) all pushed to the red line.

And all the confidence, swagger and upbeat energy works to sell the music.  The effect of the brass sometimes evokes soul and funk, sometimes ska, and sometimes mariachi, but it all fits in the context of the composition.  With the considerable energy devoted to the tempo and instruments, a listener could be forgiven for initially overlooking the lyrics.  But that would be a mistake as young Max has a good eye for a story and a knack for phrasing it.  It appears that he has complied a bulging songbook in his short life, and is eager to get it on tape.

Max and the gang are equally entertaining when they dial it back for a music hall style singalong, as is ably demonstrated by "Ode to a Teenage Heartthrob".  The song is a smashing combination of The Libertines, Edwyn Collins, The Smiths and Elvis Costello.  And if Max invokes that many references, it seems to me that the sound is undeniably Max's to claim.

And our young narrator isn't above a taunt, as in this country-influenced stomper: "I shall go to heaven / and you shall go to Glasgow".

And here is perhaps the most conventional pop song on the album, the grand "She Sings a Lovely Lullaby".

The Fanatics include Eliot, Fraser, Muir, Scott, and Aldo.  Saint Max Is Missing and the Fanatics Are Dead is out now on Armellodie Records.

Bandcamp for album
Armellodie Records

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