Album Spotlight: Better Strange by James Supercave

Better Strange, the title of James Supercave's new album, had me interested before I even had the opportunity to listen to its tracks. Now having heard James Supercave's music, I can still verify that I am quite intrigued.

I was quite skeptical as "Better Strange", the album's first song and namesake, flowed from the speakers at my desk. The first sounds on the album meshed an electronically simulated horn section with a rapidly clicking hi-hat in the background. While the hi-hat clicked on the eight notes, the electronic horns maintained an oscillating pattern on the sixteenth notes of the beat. Without having heard the vocals yet, I was struck by the similarity to Australia's electronic musician, Flume.  When the vocals entered, however, James Supercave's member's came together to form a sound much less comparable to other musicians. The first verse opened up with soft vocals that floated pleasantly over the horns and percussion in the background. After a few measures, the verse led into the chorus. Introducing backup vocals, keyboard, bass and guitar with the chorus, the other instrumentalists of the band were subtly revealed.

Though I was pleased with the mix of electronic influence with live, in-session instruments, the lyrics from "Better Strange" proved most captivating to me. The chorus followed: "You're so much better strange, you're so much better when you make mistakes with me." My first reaction was that the writer of the lyrics was trying to show to a person that there are positive qualities in being strange. By saying that someone is better when they "make mistakes," the artist emphasized beauty in imperfection. Quite a positive message, right? The last two words of the line, "with me," however, provided a small flare of flavor that rendered the song's message rather ambiguous. I interpreted this to mean that the lyricist either attempted to lower someone's standards to their own bizarre behavior or that the lyricist genuinely believed the person to which the song is written should relax their behavior to a more comfortable and eccentric lifestyle. Either way, the lyrics provided a dynamic scenario to which multiple meanings can be interpreted. After having listened to the first song multiple times, I began to enjoy James Supercave's music much more. I then continued my way through the rest of the album.

As the songs continued to play, there became less emphasis on electrically engineered sounds. The first song in sequence to show the instrumentalist's raw talent was called "Body Monsters," the fourth track on the disc. Much more mellow than the first three songs, "Body Monsters" reminded me slightly of works from Bon Iver or The xx for its subtle electric guitar rhythms, distinctly emphasized vocals and pulsing bass tones in the background. The eighth listed song on the album, "Virtually A Girl," changed the albums vibe more than any other song on the compilation. Starting off with light strumming on a bright acoustic guitar, the song carried a mellow indie-rock feel. Piano and percussion entered a few bars later to solidify the relaxing indie feel. The chorus broke out into long sustained vocals with orchestral string instruments in the background. Legato vocals combined with a steady ping on the ride cymbal to provide a transient and washy feel to the chorus. Though "Virtually A Girl" most closely reflected my usual listening choice in music, my favorite song on Better Strange was the following track, "Chairman Gou." 

"Chairman Gou" started off with light strumming on an electric guitar, muffled vocals and small piano accents. A few bars in, the volume picked up with the introduction of a driving drum beat and use of synth pad. About five eighths of the way through the song, the electric guitar strumming picked up volume as the synth pad maintained the melody, cohesive with the background instrumentation. The song drove onward as the vocals, now in harmony with two singers, let out long streaming notes over increasing volume and energy of the song.  

Overall, James Supercave has crafted a great album. Although it did not satisfy my musical taste at first, the band has introduced to me new ideas to which I can expand my musical appreciation. For me, Better Strange became increasingly more captivating as the album progressed. I am happiest with their lyricism and their comfortable balance between acoustic and electrically engineered instrumentation. Until next time, thanks for reading!

m. lonsway