Rhinoceros by Calva Louise – Album Review
By David Schuster
Rhinoceros is the stunning debut from a band whose musical influences are as diverse as the members themselves. Calva Louise are an indie-rock three piece, now based in London, but Jess Allanic, Alizon Taho and Ben Parker are Venezuelan, Maori and English by birth. There can’t be many groups with origins that disparate, and that’s an edge they have used to great effect.
‘I Heard A Cry’ opens the album with a blistering punk bass beat, overlaid with fuzz guitar, somewhat reminiscent of Ash or Smashing Pumpkins. But cutting through this are Allanic’s vocals, and they take the song somewhere entirely different and altogether more interesting, reminding me of Cerys Matthews in her time with Catatonia, and Clare Grogan of 80’s guitar popsters Altered Images.
“Remarkably full sound”
So far, so good, however it’s the next two tracks ‘I’m Gonna Do Well’ and ‘Tug of War’ where you really begin to get a sense that Calva Louise are something special. The album is named after a play by Eugene Ionesco, in which everyone around the central character begins to turn into rhinoceroses! It’s particularly apt, as the surrealism and slight absurdity perfectly reflects the world which the band’s music inhabits.
Taho on bass and Parker on drums provide clever changes of pace and sixties-style backing vocals, contrasted with rock riffs, strongly comparable to The B52’s and The Pixies. For a trio they produce an remarkably full sound, continually throwing in small nuances to hold your attention.
The Dali-esque artwork on the CD also hints at the band’s non-conformist view, and so I’m pretty sure that it’s no coincidence that Ionesco’s play is taken as highlighting the rise of mob mentality, mass movements and the far right before the Second World War – all challenges which we face once again. This is reflected in the lyrics to ‘I Heard A Cry’: “Accusers accused of redeeming, repeating the old sins, pointing fingers covered in young blood”.
‘No Hey’ has a fantastically catchy whistled riff, which is a true ear-worm. I played it in the car one morning, and hours later I could hear my daughter likewise whistling it upstairs. The standout tracks though are ‘Wondertale’ and ‘Down the Stream’ which manage to combine the sunny vibe of 60’s pop with distorted grunge guitar licks. If Frankie Valli had written songs with The Ramones, this is what they might have sounded like.
‘Out of Use’ is the weakest number and, unfortunately, it’s also the closer. They should have tracklisted it mid-album and finished with ‘No Hey’.
Whatever, Rhinoceros is going into my playlist alongside Sunflower Bean, The Struts and Dream Wife. If you’re a fan of intelligent, punk-influenced indie rock, you’ll love this. Calva Louise will be big on the festival scene by summer 2020, or I’ll take a knife and fork to my hat.