Stereophonic Space Sound Unlimited - The Flawless Miss Drake

Stereophonic Space Sound Unlimited - The Flawless Miss Drake

SSSU's unique blend of surf and lounge (for lack of better description) have been a beloved facet of the surf ecosystem for 25 years. However, though I think they never lost a step, their more recent efforts felt a little "library" (again, for lack of a better term). A little more genre-expansive, experimental, and a little less guitar. I always thought it was probably all they could do to keep from going stale, and they did it well.

To say that Flawless Miss Drake goes in a different direction is both true and absolutely wrong. Just looking at it, this is their first album art that isn't abstract or graphic-design oriented and instead takes the form of the soundtrack to an imaginary (or yet unmade?) spy film, with a bit of a narrative playing out in the music and song titles. Spy music isn't exactly a huge leap for this band's sound of course, let's just focus on some tracks.

They come out incredibly strong with the first three.

The first track, "The Flawless Miss Drake", is a deserving title theme in that it's a high-energy showcase of what the record has to offer. It makes a strong statement right from the start that guitar is a prominent member of this party, but also switches to mysterious vibey sneaky moments.

It's a fantastic song, but it's the next track "Return to Marrakech" that really struck me as special, with it's swishy crunchy hip-shakey beat and middle-eastern mood.

And then there's "Land of Swinging Atoms". This is a band that generally sounds like nobody else, but this song in particular sounds like nothing else. Have you heard space age bacherlor music mashed with Western-swing-style steel guitar? And just to make it extra wild, this one feels like a full wall-of-sound kitchen sink with loudly humming bass and all sorts of synth swirling around.

"Come Out to Play" calms things down a little bit, indeed a little playful but with dangerous spy guitar getting back on thematic track. And indeed I think the whole album calms down a bit from there, still working with that wide set of sounds and inventive percussion that the band has always demonstrated. It's pretty consistently spy-sounding, but I struggle to think of a "surf" record that has pulled that off as consistently and strongly as this one.

And I want to make it clear, guitar is absolutely back bigtime on this one -- present and prominent on just about each track with plenty of John Barry magnitude and fuzzy mod edge.

As I wrap up this rambling, formless review, I'd might as well mention my love of the track that wraps the album up, "Anytime but not today", which nails the feeling of a happy ending and job well done with a sense of lingering adventure on the horizon. It's a nice and sweet song and a great way to end the record.

This band's quality quotient is too high for me to say something irresponsible like "best album they've made", but I'll say that if you've loved any of their records, you'll likely love this one too, and if you're only learning about them now this is a great place to start.

Available on bandcamp and (no CD that I noticed...) from Hi-Tide Recordings.

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