Many so-called indie or garage bands tend to sound like a strangled melding of fuzz-tones, lo-fi rumble and digitized existential angst, at least for the less sleek and polished works among them. Not many of these types of bands fully encapsulate the essence of the bygone eras they are trying to recreate; with Leicester’s own Cornershop being one of that filthy few. It’s not like they haven’t been around the block either, having originally formed in 1991 and stepped into the spotlight six years later with the single “Brimful of Asha”.
23 years after “Brimful” and eight after Urban Turban, The Indian-music-meets psychedelia-meets-British-pop outfit return with England Is A Garden, a nod to artist Catherine Hamilton’s book of the same name. The music, like the book, is plentifully illustrative and colorful: “St. Marie Under Canon” flawlessly pastiches British Invasion-era Stones with The Lovin’ Spoonful and touches of Procol Harum, shifting from garage to fittingly-fluted hippie chill music with “Slingshot.” The Stones vibe evolves and morphs into some Humble Pie-Esque early 70s flavors in “No Rock Save In Roll”, changing up once more into the catchy, brass-infused celebratory groove of “Everywhere That Wog Army Roam.”
Running off of horns into strings and light sitar, “Highly Amplified” unfolds as a posthumous combination of the Beatles’ late output and George Harrison’s early solo material with dashings of flute thrown on top. The namesake and brief instrumental “England Is A Garden” coincidentally travels the furthest from England out of any track on the album, setting light guitar strummings and easing flute against hypnotic Tabla drums that reverse halfway through- oh yeah, and there’s chirping birds too. “Cash Money” (related in no way to rap) circles back to straight-ahead, laid-back rock, and roll, a precedent that carries clean over to “I’m A Wooden Soldier” after the brief interlude of “Morning Ben.”
“One Careful Lady Owner” stretches out the basic rock and roll formula into Indian mixture once more, demonstrating for anyone who wasn’t yet convinced the seamless way in which sitars and guitars mix- a microcosmic connection between East and West. The extensive “The Holy Name” meanders towards the end amidst a wall of background chatter; one can imagine the boys in Cornerstone sitting in a lounge or a street corner busting this one out amidst a similar sea of people talking amongst themselves. What begins as a seemingly aimless rendition of “Do You Believe In Magic” works its way into being a quasi-involved singalong, rife with soundboard effects and casual fluting as it moseys its way out the door.
Showing that they haven’t lost their edge after nearly 30 years in the saddle, Cornershop come through on England Is A Garden and make clear their difference between them and the run of the mill indie band. A cosmopolitan potpourri of English flavor and Indian charm, Cornershop insists listeners get the best of both worlds with a mix that is undeniably familiar and recognizable while traversing into lands that too many still are unknown. Let’s hope they keep up the tastefulness at least another few years.
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