Gulp finds itself underwater with ‘All Good Wishes’

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

Good wishes can’t stand in for consistent execution.

All Good Wishes is the second album from Gulp, the sometimes psychedelic, sometimes pop, synth-loaded musical project of Guto Pryce of Super Furry Animals and Lindsey Leven, accompanied by guitarist Gid Goundrey and drummer Gwion Llewelyn.

The band formed and recorded its first album in Cardiff but moved to the Scottish east coast just before recording All Good Wishes. Gulp’s previous LP replicated the sublime landscapes the band members encountered in their travels with dreamy guitar lines. The band’s musical structure relies on the balance and interplay of groove-based, regular foundations and fleeting psychedelic touches, layered upon this established base. While the band shows it can write driving basslines and catchy leads, many of this album’s tracks don’t make the relationship and contrast between these two aspects interesting.

All Good Wishes recalls the dream pop of Beach House, but it focuses on backbone instead of intricately fuzzy guitar lines. It’s Stereolab taking a break to go lounge on a beach and stare at the sea. The album possesses interludes that enhance the sense that this is music to drift away with. It lays down track after track of synth-soaked psychedelia that squirms and blips along like transparent sea creatures. The melodies on many of the tracks feel lifeless, however, and they fail to squirm anywhere interesting. They are too gentle and bland to give the songs any vitality.

There are some touches that simply detract from the album. Leven spends the record spinning visions of a tropical paradise. Her layered vocals intone the glittering water and longing for love in the city, and the varied production matches her varied lyrics. Unfortunately, the studio touches on “Beam,” “Following Rain” and “Ride” only clutter Leven’s vocals. It’s as if these tracks have drained the range and energy from the bright melody that makes the better tracks work. “Ride,” on the second half of the album, pairs heavy use of echo on Leven’s voice with a buzzing, nasally synth line that recalls a harmonica, producing an unbearable pseudo-country romp that feels wedged between stronger songs.

Gulp’s songwriting ability shines, however, in the lead single “I Dream of Your Song,” in which reverberating acoustic guitar lines waft across a steady backing. While the drums remain filtered and compressed, the guitar lines are clear and crisp. A fuzzed-out organ binds the elements together, and Leven’s dry but evocative voice floats in to repeat the title. The song has both hard and soft, angular and smooth elements that complement each other. And the highlight of the track is a bright, picked guitar line that enters to carry the song to its conclusion, expertly acting as a great foil to the distorted drums.

On most of the album, the lyrical content is less at the forefront than the tone and delivery of the tracks — which parallel delicious washes of synths and provide a contrast to the mechanical drum rhythms. This is apparent in tracks such as “Morning Velvet Sky,” in which Leven lets the cold click of the snare rhythm warm up to her first coos before opening into lyrics about transition and adaptation. Her lines are followed by blissful layered soft synths, which give way to harder arpeggiated blips. The closing track, “Silver Tides,” also has a clear start and end, with a driving groove that propels a constantly shifting and layered melody. Distinct soft melodies float in and out to complement the beat, which even opens to an occasional drum break.

Some of the songs — “Claudia,” “I Dream of Your Song,” “Morning Velvet Sky” and “Silver Tides” — are gorgeous, summery and dynamic. Their synths, guitars, drums and vocals are all polished elements that twist and combine. They each have a bright synthesis that is more than the sum of its parts. They show the range of the band’s songwriting and ability to combine distinct elements. But the rest doesn’t manage to take the formula of contrasted sounds anywhere pleasing or interesting. Some have grating components, while others just don’t meld well. Gulp demonstrates its potential, but it doesn’t exercise it consistently across the album.

Contact Patrick Tehaney at [email protected]. Tweet him at @patricktehaney.