One of the musical Ten Commandments that becomes more reliably accurate with every passing year is that women do cock-rock way better than men. Take Elin Larsson of Blues Pills, who appears to be channelling not just the lusty thrust and grainy growl of Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and Maggie Bell, but also the hollering exaltation of classic R&B and transcendent liberation of psychedelic soul.
With Larsson’s rich vocal range couched in kaleidoscopic guitar work from Zack Anderson (formerly the bassist), this SwedishAmerican quartet have widened their horizons considerably on their agreeably pungent third album.
Since releasing their European chart-topper Lady In Gold in 2016, Blues Pills have built their own studio in a former factory in rural Sweden. There’s certainly an attractively home-made, analogue feel to Holy Moly! that’s rich in fuzz and clatter, warm amplifier hum and screeching feedback, heady aromas and clammy intimacy.
This exploratory rawness is one of the qualities that saves the Pills from sinking into slavish retro pastiche. Ragged and excitable, they still sound like a young psych-blues soul-rock garage band. Mainly because they are.
Admittedly they still fall back on formulaic nostalgia at times, and the album feels like a Haight-Ashbury cosplay party in places. But at their best these post millennial neo-hippies dig deeper than their vintage vinyl record collections, and tap into some of the molten alchemy that made blues-rock so potent half a century ago.
It is there in the funky gallop of Proud Woman. Or in California, a mighty waltz-time power ballad that pushes the lonesome ache of country-rock to anthemic proportions. Or in Kiss My Past Goodbye, with Larsson’s operatic vocal thundering towards Valhalla atop a flaming chariot of choral gospel-rock screams. ‘Kiss it, bitch!’ she howls. Dumb but thrilling. But Larsson can do bittersweet understatement too.
Wish I’d Known is a tender weepie with a twangy, Stones-y flavour, while Dust is a kind of prowling, late-night, vampiric torch song. The pared-down, raw-blues lament Longest Lasting Friend ends Holy Moly! on an ironic twist, raising a glass to the constant companionship of depression.
These kids are still in their twenties, so their world-weary shtick has more passion than depth. But, as ever, they do it with conviction, their uncomplicated love for heritage rock informing every warm, wonky, soulful note. Innocence is their greatest asset.