Thursday, May 30 2024

Santa Barbara’s Plastic Harpoons return with their first release since 2023’s ‘Meet Me In The Middle.’ ‘Better Than Dying’ is good. In fact, it’s beyond good. Good is a cold pint on a balmy July evening, or your kids actually tidying their room after only the third time of asking. This is better. Much better. And it could well be a mainstay of many Summer 2024 playlists.

Before we delve deeper into their new song let’s bask in the resplendent ’60s / ’70s stadium rock stylings of Plastic Harpoons. Their first album, ‘Modern World’ was released in 2022 and was an unassuming, yet opulent mix of Bob Dylan, ‘Midnight Train’, Rolling Stones and Tom Petty, ‘Diamond Wings’; with its Peter Green-esque slide solo. Prone as I am to the occasional hyperbole; this could quite possibly be the best album you’ve never heard of. And that’s an appalling oversight on your part. You should, rightly, self-flagellate and immediately correct this faux pas. 

The gem, hidden in plain sight, for me is the gently swaying ¾ time signature of ‘One Step.’ Vocalist, Taylor Casey’s verse phrasing is reminiscent to that of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ Indeed, the song has a hymn like quality, albeit in a rock setting. 

2023 saw the release of ‘Meet Me in The Middle’; a laid-back rhythm and blues, Rolling Stones infused song that features superb melodic contour and phrasing throughout and a typically sing-a-long chorus. Without question, Plastic Harpoons encapsulate the very best elements of late ’60s, early ’70s Rhythm and Blues and Rock; The groove of ‘The Stones’, the density and drama of Queen and an almost ungodly ability to pick a chorus on a par with Fleetwood Mac.

PLASTIC HARPOONS 1
Credit: Sierra House

This brings us neatly and fluidly to ‘Better Than Dying’, which the band state ‘came together naturally, in about an hour’. The best songs often do. They just naturally fall into place when that mystical lightning bolt of inspiration takes hold and works its magic; Ray Charles wrote, ‘What’d I say’ in under 15 minutes while improvising at a live show in 1958. Elton John and Bernie Taupin had ‘Your Song’ done in 20 minutes, whilst sat at a kitchen table. Black Sabbath were informed that their second album was too short and they needed a ‘3-minute filler’. Half an hour later, ‘Paranoid’ was ‘born’.

My digressions are my consistent transgression, for which I do not apologise. The song starts with synth and keyboard motets evoking ‘Once In A Lifetime’ and Candi Stanton’s, ‘You’ve Got The Love’ (obviously you’ve heard the Florence and the Machine version of this; the original was untouchable, however!), they’re brief, but provide the perfect pre-cursor for the syncopated guitar stabs and descending blues lead motif, which is simple and screams to be hummed along with. 

The verses are an interesting A, G, Bb, F chord progression, with solid bass rolling and tight, contained drums. The guitar’s, sparse, but the nuances add interesting counterpoint, particularly towards transitional phases. Taylor’s vocals are crisp, somewhere between Andrew Wood and Tom Petty, there’s a certain drawl that leans more towards Petty. His voice is a smooth, soulful, mid-tenor which is a good mix of head and chest voice. It has a certain presence. A certain charm that sells the songs effortlessly. 

The chorus is a catchy, descending, C, B, Bb, A chord progression; played staccato on one guitar, and single strummed on the other. This is lifted by a rousing ‘four on the floor’ drum pattern. The melody is, as always, deliciously sing-a-long, “Didn’t get what I want. Got what I need. Still better than dying, pragmatism, but with a hint of resignation. I’ve not heard one chorus that doesn’t scream to be bellowed out, from Plastic Harpoons. That’s a talent in itself.

Plastic Harpoons 2
Credit: Tynan Daniels

Structurally the song is very simple; verse, chorus, repeated and then mid-section/solo, with A, G, F, C progression which evolves to A, G, Bb, F as the ‘four on the floor’ beat returns. It’s neatly packaged, with good use of the opening lead motif over the verse progression to act as pre-verse / bridge. The solo, ably provided by Daniel Vasquez, features some good phrasing with some nice descending runs before the breakdown. It has a lovely clean overdriven tone and really takes the song forward.  

After the obligatory breakdown, which is simply the chorus sparsely backed, we’re back in with another rousing chorus, before the outro with some very nice accompaniment by both voice and guitar. It smacks of sunshine. A true Summer 2024 anthem.

In terms of production, there is excellent separation between the tracks. Everything is well balanced, and the low mixing of elements over the chorus give depth without being obtrusive – to my ears there’s either slide, harmonica or keys; maybe all three, present. The harmonies over the chorus are spatially well placed creating a fuller, choral density.

Overall, ‘Better Than Dying’ is a tight, flowing, infectious, slice of sunshine that will have you eagerly cranking up the volume, and wailing along. If there’s a better rhythm and blues/rock band coming through, I’m yet to hear them. Prepare to be impressed.

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Review

Summary

Blissfuly uplifting Pop-Rock with a catchy sing-a-long chorus. A tight, flowing, infectious, slice of sunshine!
88%
Catchy, Sunny, Sing-a-long

Rating

Song Quality
Vocal Performance
Lyrics
Instrumentation
Production

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About Author

Gareth Johnston

Gareth Johnston is a Lancashire based musician and producer who studied music at MMU. He is a former reviewer for 'Glitzine' and when not writing for 'The Indie Grid' can be found restoring old furniture whilst listening to obscure alt-rock. He has too many favourite bands to pick one and insists it's easier to pick a favourite child.

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