The past few years have seen a revival of nearly every decade, whether it be for its fashion trends or its sonic tendencies. Today’s musical landscape is a smorgasbord of influences that feasts on any and every genre and time period made available by the internet. In a time of such accessibility, it becomes increasingly tricky to escape the sense that everything old has become new again—that a painfully postmodern “imitation as art” is the indisputable standard. Today, the bands that stand out to us the most are the ones that play into our generation’s obsession with nostalgia while skillfully retaining an idiosyncratic edge. Regal Degal have made a career out of achieving this precise balance.
The bi-coastal trio’s latest is a ten-track follow-up to their 2012 debut, A Veritable Who’s Who. The sophomore effort—out on Terrible Records and produced in tandem with the label’s founder, Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor—is, even at face value, a much more mature and confident statement than their first. The album’s title, Not Now, hints at an evasiveness towards the present, and the cover art (a self-portrait by artist David Benjamin Sherry) hearkens back to the days of stark analog photography while reminding us of a very modern acceptance of blurred gender identities. Similarly, the music itself seems to have one foot planted firmly in the present while the other hops restlessly through time and space.
Not Now begins very strongly, with a number of solid tracks back-to-back. The opener, “Delicious,” immediately called to mind Friend & Lover’s 1968 hit “Reach Out of the Darkness," but the upbeat pop angle is smartly combined with post punk a la The Cure. “Wide Awake” feels somewhat like a modern take on Depeche Mode, but features an instrumental freak-out near its end that comes off like a futuristic free jazz jam. At the center of the record we find slightly more subdued but undeniably lush tracks like “Defense” and “Deal of a Lifetime.”
Even when the trio slow things down, they manage to find a sparkling hook in the midst of their wall-of-sound wooziness. Many of the tracks also feature unexpected twists in their central melodies, even a jerkiness reminiscent of XTC. Singer/guitarist Josh da Costa affects a languid tone that helps create a laid-back atmosphere (and an ideal summer listen), while drummer Jamen Whitelock keeps a steady, danceable rhythm alive through much of the album. Bassist Josiah Wolfson, meanwhile, seems informed by everything from disco to new wave, punk to modern electronica. Together they conjure a unique sound that manages to (and I usually hate this phrase) transcend its influences.
The record unfortunately sags a little towards the end, and its last three tracks pale in comparison to the string of tight, hook-laden songs preceding them. But overall, Not Now achieves a feel that is smart and fun, sleek but dreamlike, and is as much an homage to the past as it is a step towards the future.