Don’t let the opening 4 minutes fool you, $ is a great album. Montreal’s Mark Sultan is definitely no stranger to pushing limits often creating music on the border of many different genres and his involvement with several musical outfits or as a one man band, where he is better known as BBQ or under many different monikers, is a testament to his creativity. His latest effort is almost a spring cleaning of the garage rock he is best known for and if there ever was a punk band in the 50s, surely they would sound like $. The album is full of catchy tunes, jittery guitar solos, and lo-fi recordings. While it is clear that Sultan is capable of playing many different instruments with a sense of mastery, his greatest asset is his voice. It is a shame he uses it sparingly.
The first 4 minutes of the opening track ‘Icicles’ is a saturation of psychedelic garage rock with a guitar purr that rumbles on for what seems like an eternity. When Sultan finally starts singing, the tune is somewhat fuzzed out. ‘Icicles’ is an interesting artful opener with a feel similar to his other projects but completely unlike the rest of the album.
$ takes a distinct u-turn leaving the 60s psychedelics behind. ‘Don’t Look Back’ might better be described as an attempt at a Spanish folk tune with a drum circle and a multitude of other instruments pounding their way to the finale. Moving another decade backwards, the album settles in and produces a predominant sound with the rest of the tracks. Picture a marriage between Buddy Holly, Blue Swede and The Dead Kennedys; 50s rock n roll, memorable melodies, and raw punk elements. ‘Ten of Hearts’ features the four chord classic step guitar pattern used for 50s ballads, a mix of vocals that stretch Sultan’s range, and a rough guitar riff that makes its appearance towards the end during a build up of circus like instrumentation. It is during the next track, ‘Status’, that one can’t help checking the connection of the speakers and bass controls on the EQ as the lo-fi sound becomes apparent. It is like a an old record being played on one of those all in one turntable stereos, yet it is precisely this quality that gives $ its endearing charm. ‘I Get Nothing From My Girl’ cleans the sound up a bit with a bouncy, hook infested tune worthy of a whistle (indeed, there is a whistle part in there). At the halfway point of the album, it is clear that Mark Sultan’s new sound is much less garage and much more bedroom than any of his previous ensembles. ‘I am the End’ and ‘I’ll Be Loving You’ really showcases Sultan’s great vocals when he opens them up a bit. His voice is best described like a muscle car from the 50s; plenty of gusto but you know there’s a lot left under the hood. $ has 13 tracks and, with the exception of the opener, all of them have unique personality. Perhaps no better song typifies the overall feel than ‘Catastrophe’; arguably the best track on the album and placed second to last on the disc order.
If you like the 50s sound, but always felt like it was too clean and glossy, then Sultan’s latest effort definitely hits the $. Raw and edgy yet catchy and modern, this is a memorable album. The only slightly downside is the fact that Sultan does not use his vocal prowess as often as he should, but then again, always leave your fans wanting more.