Nick Bollinger plunges into the primordial rock’n’roll of Madrid-based garage band The Parrots.
In his book Retromania, the critic Simon Reynolds declared that pop has begun to feed unhealthily on its own past. Among the examples he gave was a practice he calls ‘sonic antiquing’. He might have been thinking of The Parrots, a self-described ‘primordial rock’n’roll band’ from Madrid.
The band is named after a bird famous for imitating the sounds of other creatures. And their music is full of motifs that summon up the past: trebly, nerve-rattling guitar; a reverb that sounds like the drum kit is in the bathroom; a snarling distorted vocal. One of their songs is called ‘Let’s Do It Again’. Do what again? ‘The Locomotion’, I presume – Little Eva’s 1962 hit, which is where the chords comes from.
The Parrots, who were signed by the British label Heavenly after an impressive performance at last year’s SXSW festival in Texas, are an example of what Reynolds identifies as a fetishisation of the past, where bands, rather than respond to the sounds around them today, imagine themselves in an alternative pop universe – in the Parrots’ case, one where it’s always 1966.
Of course there are plenty of possible ripostes to Reynolds’ theory. One is that music such as The Parrots make is a response to the sounds around them today; they hear those sounds and they don’t like them, and what’s wrong with creating a private universe, where you can surround yourself with the music of your choice? Another is that to imagine what might have happened had pop carried on down a particular path at a particular time, is a perfectly a valid way of arriving at something new – which the Parrots come close to achieving when two or more antique styles collide in a single song.
Sure I hear 60s garage but also a touch of T Rex, whose music actually falls well outside the 60s garage genre (though Marc Bolan, it must be said, did his own share of sonic antiquing.) I also hear, curiously, echoes of The Clean, whose hybrid style emerged in another time and place altogether – Dunedin in the 80s.
One downside of retro that Reynolds notes is ‘a certain detachment’ about the music. He calls it ‘pop as objective artefact… rather than subjective expression.’ And yet I hardly hear objective detachment in this music. They hurl themselves into tracks like these about as subjectively as you can.
There’s plenty about the Parrots that’s familiar, that’s undeniable. Yet the more I listen, the less they seem like a recreation of something that’s gone before and more like a checklist of things they like and – by implication – don’t like, which might be as contemporary a statement as you could make. Their songs are uniformly short – a couple of them touch the three minute mark, but those are epics by The Parrots’ standards. They sing in a mixture of English and Spanish, which may be nothing new but makes its own statement. Their album, which is only 26 minutes long, is called Los Ninos Sin Miedo – which translates as The Fearless Kids – and there are times when, retro or not, it’s just what I want to hear.
Songs featured: Let’s Do It Again, Caspar, Too High To Die, Jamie Gumb, E.A. Presley, Los Ninos Sin Miedo.
Los Niños Sin Miedo is available on Heavenly Records.