Ireland’s best kept pop secret is PUGWASH. The band – 4 guys playing primarily guitars, bass and drums – have just released a brand new all-original album, Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends), only their second in the US and for American label Omnivore. Yet Pugwash has been around for nearly two decades, playing their power pop tunes to a very supportive and growing crowd of fans that includes some very notable heroes of the band’s. Jeff Lynne is one of them. Andy Partridge of XTC is one of them. Ray Davies of The Kinks hadn’t heard of them until they recorded this very album in his studio. Then he became one of them.
It’s easy to say, “They sound like XTC meets ELO with a bit of R.E.M. mixed in,” but those who can think past three letters will tell you there’s more – and less – going on in Pugwash than that.
Leader Thomas Walsh, the songwriter of the band, is a lovely guy who writes these very catchy tunes that stay in your head forever; luckily he lets them out of his head for us to hear. Verging between power pop and lighter fare, the arrangements are less elaborate than XTC and ELO (no deliberately difficult passages, no orchestra) and lack the R.E.M. Southern charm. The band supports Walsh’s writings with a good deal of rock ’n’ roll knowledge – you hear all kinds of pop from the past float through the tunes – making it much more difficult to put a finger on Pugwash’s real pedigree. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to see Pugwash live, you’ll hear them improvise “cover” songs on the spot, with humor and a clear love of popular music in all its varieties. Check out this video of the band breaking into “If I Needed Someone” by their beloved Beatles.
Play This Intimately has some gorgeous tunes on it and is a worthwhile purchase, though it’s a little more low key than some of their previous efforts. To see what I mean, pick up Omnivore’s career-spanning Pugwash compilation, A Rose in a Garden of Weeds. The beat is forefront in many of the tunes Walsh and Omnivore chose for the band’s debut US release, such as “Monorail,” “Take Me Away” and “Answers on a Postcard.” In all, though, if highly hummable tunes are your chosen form of nourishment, Pugwash will keep you well fed. (P.S. – The initial vinyl pressing is clear red vinyl – like candy!)
3.5/5 (Omnivore Recordings, 2015)