In these 21st Century times there has been something of a return to a “singles” mentality amongst many in the mainstream, where people opt for individual tracks vs. buying an entire album. Amidst that, it is always refreshing to hear a relatively recent recording that respects the notion of a carefully curated collection of songs which urge the listener to pay attention to the whole album.
Eleven Modern Antiquities by Dublin’s Pugwash is one such finely crafted end-to-end listening experience which you may have missed upon its release in 2008. Featuring special guest contributions from no less than XTC’s Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory, Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy), Jason Falkner (Jellyfish, The Grays), Eric Matthews, Michael Penn and Nelson Bragg (Brian Wilson Band), the album is a glorious celebration of melody, harmony and songwriting surprise.
Eleven Modern Antiquities has just been issued on vinyl for the first time and it is a major improvement over the original CD (which are rare as hens teeth here in America anyhow). The new vinyl version is quite wonderful in how it opens up the vistas on this music.
Why does this matter, you ask? Well, when the first song on the album simultaneously references The Yardbirds and The Beatles while incorporating a perfect Brian Wilson / SMiLE-esque diversionary bridge moment, you really want the music to sound as expansive as possible. And for what is probably a digital recording at its root, any opportunity to give the listener the best possible listening experience is wise. Now you can turn up Eleven Modern Antiquities to… well… 11 (!) to really feel what main songwriter and producer Thomas Walsh accomplished here.
The new vinyl version of Eleven Modern Antiquities was mastered at Abbey Road Studios in London by Sean Magee. And it sounds it.
Just listen to the dreamy love ache of “Here” and you can feel the Ringo-worthy drums and the beautiful guitar solo with XTC’s Dave Gregory (who also arranged the stunning string quartet portions of this song). This is easily one of my favorite Pugwash songs (I’ve posted the studio take and a stunning live version of it below for you to check out).
Clever lyrical turns pepper Eleven Modern Antiquities. One of the standouts is “My Genius” (co-written with XTC’s Andy Partridge) which offers playful twists on the whole genie-in-a-bottle concept. I won’t spoil it for you but do listen closely to some of love that went into crafting songs like this.
But its not all sugar sweet and candy apple red sunshine power pop sparkles. “Landsdowne Valley” concludes the album in an epic psychedelic trip into the cosmos.
And so it goes with Eleven Modern Antiquities which you can order from the Sugarbush Records website (click the album title anywhere in this review to jump to it). I encourage you to do so quickly as they only pressed a relatively small quantity this time around.
I ordered both versions — hey, I do like to support independent artists whenever possible — and happily both pressings are quite nice. The black vinyl version sounds the best, quiet and well centered. The super pretty black-white-smoke splatter vinyl version also plays quite nicely but if you turn up the volume, you can hear the louder noise-floor from the multi-color vinyl pressing (mostly between songs). It is not a deal breaker but you should be aware of it in case you are concerned about details like this.
Either way, if you like grandly produced, British-inspired rock flavors amazingly blended with a tasty Brian Wilson-chaser — rich harmonies, lush production and a power pop twist — you should definitely be listening to the music of Thomas Walsh and Pugwash.
As Sugarbush Records has been issuing the Pugwash catalog on vinyl over the past several years, I’ve reviewed a number of their albums here at Audiophile Review. Please click on any of these titles following to read my takes on those releases: Almond Tea, Almanac, Play This Intimately As If Among Friends, Silverlake, Jollity, The Olympus Sound and the rarities compilation The Good, The Bad & The Pugly.
There is a whole universe of grand music there awaiting your discovery…