Mark Sultan - $
Canadian Mark Sultan planted his musical roots as front man for punk rockers The Spaceshits in his teens and, whilst he’s been involved in a variety of projects since, punk is still at the heart of many things he does with its “who gives a flying fish, give-it-a-go” attitude. His only previous solo album was 2007’s The Sultanic Verses so the curiously titled $ was a much anticipated release – most of us wondering what on earth Mr S would lay down for our delectation this time around. The answer is a bunch of tuneful ditties with venerable, but not senile, influences given a sometimes shocking but always enjoyable twist.
To kick us off, ‘Icicles’ opens up with fuzzed-up and slightly out-of-tune guitar and thumping bass drum which, whilst catching a great mood, does leave you wondering if the whole album is going to be instrumental. A full four minutes in, the vocals creep out like a panther in hunting mode and pin you down with menace. ‘Don’t Look Back’ gives light to a furious gallop that The Ventures would have been proud of and more venomously arresting singing backed by stirring glasses and perhaps even rattlesnakes. Just when we know where we’re going, it all takes a big left turn into doo-wop with ‘Ten Of Hearts’, although still with the distorted guitar to keep everything satisfyingly edgy.
‘Status’ cracks off as if it could have been taken straight from Phil Spector’s period with The Ramones but after listening for a minute or so, you’ll realise that those aren’t hand-claps in the background, it’s a table-tennis match going on and the high-pitched squeal is punctuated by bursts of noise from a short wave radio breaking the rhythm. A thing of joy. Following on are songs showing more bizarre combinations that work every time: ever wondered what it would be like if Marc Bolan tried out Country and Western, Sam Cooke cut a record backed by electronic rumblings and pops or Roy Wood headed up The Stranglers? You name the oddest pairing you can imagine and Sultan can probably not only do it, he can make it sound natural and magnificent. There are moments that your parents, or even grandparents, would recognise from their formative years but twisted into something that makes your heart pound and your blood race. $ = happy face.