Plain Ride‘s latest album, Skeleton Kites, is billed as “a blues album created with a mindset of a West African proto-doom band, made in Finland.” If you’re wondering what the fuck that means, that makes two of us. More importantly, who is Plain Ride? Well, they’re a 5-piece band from Finland who have been around for about a decade. They’re led by vocalist/guitarist Janne Westerlund, who is apparently a big deal as a solo artist (never heard of him). Their website describes their style as “Folk, Country, Blues, hypno-psychedelic Krautrock.” In layman’s terms, that means that Plain Ride is either pretentious as fuck, or they have a very imaginative PR person. Fair enough, but what does this stuff actually sound like?
The answer, put bluntly, is that it sounds like hippie music. This isn’t “proto”-anything, it’s marginally bluesy at best, and it sure as shit isn’t doom. Like countless other bands, Plain Ride is chasing that moment in time where rock music first went dark. Acoustic guitars and subdued drumming are everywhere on this record, accented occasionally by fuzz-toned electrics and some tasteful piano/organ work. Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd is the obvious comparison, as is Jethro Tull, early Hawkwind and, well, any band that was around at the dawn of the ’70s. A more recent point of reference might be The Devil’s Blood‘s mellower material, which had a similar peace-and-love vibe and dark undercurrent.
Generally speaking, the songs on Skeleton Kites are of the mellow, strummy variety, and are either hypnotically groovy or just boring, depending on your outlook (and drug intake). The album tests patience right out of the gate, as opener “St. Jenny” goes nowhere at all for 4-plus minutes, and follow-up “Lt. Greeley” is only marginally more engaging. “Yesterday’s Fire” is an obvious standout, being a bit more uptempo and memorable than the rest of the material. The title track goes for the reeeeally big buildup, only reaching full steam about halfway through its 9-minute running time.
Instrumentally, the band handles this material pretty well. The tones and production are appropriately vintage, and the musicianship generally stays “in character” for the genre (although whoever’s playing lead guitar is a little over-the-top sometimes). Bassist Pekka Jääskeläinen does a particularly good job of supplying the rhythmic bounce needed to keep this stuff sounding authentic. The CSNY-style vocal harmonies are a nice touch as well.
However, the vocal department is where things get questionable. The lyrics on Skeleton Kites are split between English and Finnish, and not surprisingly, Westerlund fares better in his native tongue. The English-sung tracks suffer from a bad case of Berzerkeritis, and Westerlund’s heavy accent and odd phrasings can get really distracting. Lyrically, it sounds like he just threw in anything that sounded vaguely “psychedelic” or non-sensical — I think at one point he mentioned rye bread (huh?).
All hyperbole aside, Plain Ride is just a group of guys playing tourist through music that came from another era, thousands of miles away. Sometimes they pull it off nicely; other times they are so far out of their league that it’s not even funny. Skeleton Kites doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but taken at face value, it’s a decent listen.