Sydney-based sextet Winston Surfshirt has made a quick rise to fame in Australia off the strength of their unique blend of hip-hop, funk, and psychedelic surf-rock. With 2017’s Sponge Cake being well received critically and commercially, Winston Surfshirt look to follow-up their success with their second studio LP Apple Crumble. With a sound that owes as much to Sly & The Family Stone as it does Wavves, the band has garnered significant attention, notably from Elton John who dubbed them his “favourite band at the moment.”
Opening track “Need You” opens up with some dusty jazz-influenced keys. It’s a strong start to the record, built off an ultra-punchy chorus delivered with silky vocals from frontman Winston, who the band is named after. This song will immediately draw comparisons to the American-based rapper Anderson .Paak, who also combines vintage sounds with modern takes on hip-hop and R&B. The similarities are there, but the comparison is a little too narrow as Winston Surfshirt projects much more of a rock approach than .Paak does.
“For The Record” features a snappy hip-hop groove that proves they are much more versatile than just pure funk-revivalists. “Since I Saw You There” feels much like a vintage 90s RnB number with its velvety vocals and relaxed rap/sung flow on the verse. Sparkling hi-hat and crisp guitar riffs function as the skeleton of the track.
“This Just Don’t Sit Right” holds up some monstrous, murky bass works with eye-wincing slaps. Muted guitar chucks move along over chiming synths and seductive harmonies in the chorus. “NobodyLikeYou” is a certified dance floor stomper with a minimalist groove so tight it sounds like it might break at any moment. The song’s title is digitally pronounced in a way that seems laced into the instrumental of the track. There is something symbolic of a computer repeating such a human emotion.
The sunny “Show Love” is one of the lighter tracks on the album. Percussive synth pads rest up against a tasteful cowbell pattern. With its bright, clean guitar strikes, it is one of the most pop-oriented numbers here. “Smile” is a definite highlight, wasting no time and going straight into its fist-raising hook.
“Where Did All Your Love Go?” is a bit more of a contemplative track for the band. The infectious horn has a lyrical quality of it, almost telling the song’s story more than the vocals. It’s lush yet deceptively sparse, giving more weight to Winston’s hushed and restrained vocals.
“Make A Move”, the record’s second single, is anchored by an irresistible dance beat. Moved forward by an aggressive kick drum, the song is a sweaty ode to pure ecstasy.
“Crypto” is a bit of a weak moment on an otherwise solid release. This ballad comes across flat-footed with a forgettable chorus and distracting falsetto. However, things pick up with “Someone New”. Following a creeping bassline, a soulful, jubilant horn section steals the show.
The album ends with a mostly instrumental – barring some recording vocal feedback, “Bolney Stage 2” is an ambient piece designed to give Apple Crumble some closure. What’s impressive about this track, and something that also is prominent in the previous track, is a simple, but meditative drum pattern that never seems to leave the pocket.
Apple Crumble is a satisfying blend of sounds, both old and new. There are not many weak moments at all, but neither does the record ever really garner any true momentum or cohesion. It feels more like a loose collection of songs than a complete record that demands repeat, attentive listens. Some more attention to these aspects of album building could produce a more impressive project in the future. While the band’s approach is admirable and original, some more diversity would be nice, as the record at times feels a bit one-dimensional. Still, with these critiques in place, the band has a real talent for detailed, dense arrangements that never feel over-indulgent. There is a nod to classic sounds without diving too far into over-nostalgia. The production is crisp and squeaky clean while still maintaining a considerable amount of grit and personality – something that is not always easy to do. This group of young Australian gentlemen handle these sounds with care. This is a record of appreciation and not appropriation.