Inca Babies – Swamp Street Soul
Black Lagoon Records
Release Date; 23rd November 2021
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For those of a certain age and a certain disposition, Inca Babies are a special band. Their brand of post punk gothic blues struck a chord with those who liked their music a bit darker, deeper and kore deranged.
As loathe as I am to once again bring up comparisons to The Birthday Party, I’m afraid I must, at least for context. The strange thing here is that for a band who made such extreme music, the Birthday Party were a catalyst for a huge number people to form bands with a similar mindset. Of these, Manchester’s Inca Babies were initially possibly the most faithful to the sound, releasing such wonderful records as Big Jugular, Grunt Cadillac Hotel and their debut album Rumble on their own Black Lagoon Records.
Soon though, Inca Babies grew from this starting point and created a music that was all their own. Second album This Train showcased a more thoughtful approach while still retaining their treble rich sturm and drang. This trend continued and by the time of what seemed to be their final album, Evil Hour, they were mining a rich seam of rockabilly, blues and 50s Americana.
Following this album the band split up until they were tempted to reform in 2007. Unusually, this reformation resulted in not just live shows but also new material, with the band release three albums since then. Singer Harry Stafford has also found the time to release solo material along with Bone Architecture, his excellent recent collaboration album with Marco Butcher – see here for a full review.
Seemingly on a roll, Inca Babies are set to release another album, with Swamp Street Soul set to land on 23rd November, their first for seven years.
Handily, the album’s title is a good a description of the music the new album contains. The sound Inca Babies make has matured while not straying too far from their roots. The addition of brass and the reduction of attack in the guitar sound help, but the biggest difference between the old and new versions of Inca Babies is the production quality. Swamp Street Soul sounds crisp and proud, where older records perhaps sacrificed some of their sound quality to the mire.
The album starts with the title track and a bass that brings to mind the sound of Jah Wobble’s Metal Box basslines. Almost sub sonic, the bass hits you straight between the ears and provides a solid anchor for Inca Babies music. A Link Wray guitar chord and what sounds like a muted trumpet add texture and a lazy, haunting melody to the song. The intro is languidly drawn out, with Stafford only appearing halfway into it’s 4 minute duration. Their own description of their music as being ‘swamp-goth rockers’ is demonstrated to great effect here.
Walk In The Park is a more straightforward slice of mutant blues, with twin guitars claiming a speaker each with Stafford coming at you straight down the middle. The effect is similar to a live gig cleverly reproduced in the studio. Next track Sling Shot is reminiscent of where Wire meet The Cramps, a taut, restrained song featuring more clever guitar work and a deep, rolling bass.
Dear English Journalists is a forceful, slow bass driven song with the guitars in the background. There is almost a sense of déjà vu listening to this, as the Inca Babies may have updated and advanced their sound, but there are very strong threads that connect them to their past. For a moment I am transported back to my teenage bedroom, listening to the band on John Peel and wondering if my pocket money will stretch to their latest gig or album. Few bands are able to manage to walk the tightrope of staying true to their original vision and developing appropriately, but Inca Babies seemingly do this quite naturally.
Track 4 is a re-recording of Crawling Garage Gasoline and gives us a chance to examine this development in more detail. Where the original was an almost messy noise carried by tribal drums, the 2021 version is clearer and more controlled, while still being raucous and unruly where it needs to be. It is as if Inca Babies have slightly figured out how to wrestle the noise they make under some kind of control.
Bigger Than All Of Us is a straight up, straight for the throat kind of song that starts out frantic and doesn’t let up. Destined to be a live classic, the Link Wray guitar attack roars through the speakers. Swamp Street Soul is already proving itself to be an album of moods and hues before we even hit the half way mark.
I’m Grounded is a Stooges-noir with Stafford repeating the title at the beginning of almost every line. The repeating riff pummels the song home but sounds almost restrained. It is easy to imagine this song taking on a life of its own when played live.
Oh The Angels How I Bless Them takes the mood down, starting with a spartan drums/bass backing and a hint of feedback before the guitars crash in. Stafford’s vocals in the chorus are in a higher pitch than usual, giving the song a yearning quality. Listening to this, I think I prefer Inca Babies when they slow things down, the atmosphere they can create is more than enough compensation for the lack of speed and their intensity doesn’t drop for a second.
The pace stays restrained for Windshield Gnat, which features some unusual percussion effects to great effect. Perhaps Inca Babies could use this kind of thing more to change their sound, get behind some new technology a little. Then again, Swamp Street Soul is doing pretty damn well without it.
Mine Of Bones starts off with a Nightclubbing drumbeat before a menacing bassline and some fine guitar take the song away. We are back into Birthday Party territory here, but that is not a criticism, Mine Of Bones is an album highlight, full of atmosphere and trouble.
The album finishes with a reprise of the album’s title track, this time under the tile of Swamp Soul Dub and given some extra love from the mixing desk. It is well suited to this treatment with its deep, deep bassline and guitars already soaked in reverb.
It is good to have Inca Babies back. They have consistently delivered the goods over the years and Swamp Street Soul continues this tradition. It is a worthy companion to their back catalogue and can hold its head up high when compared to anything they have done this far. Where other bands of their class have faded or, worse, turned to heavy rock over the years, Inca Babies stayed true to their art and continue to plough a very singular furrow.
Swamp Street Soul deserves your attention.