The Lovetones formed from the ashes of guitarist and songwriter Matthew Tow’s previous band, Drop City. In the aftermath of Drop City’s demise, Tow headed to the United States where he made the acquaintance of psychedelic savant Anton Newcombe (Brian Jonestown Massacre).
Tow embraced the kaleidoscopic sounds and textures being explored in the psychedelic underground inhabited by Newcombe, and blended it with his own pop sensibility to create The Lovetones’ distinctive sound. The Lovetones released its first album, the critically acclaimed Be What You Want, in 2002. In 2003 The Lovetones supported the Brian Jonestown Massacre in the U.S.A, with Tow joining the Brian Jonestown Massacre in the same year. Tours of the United States and Europe followed, before The Lovetones released its second album, Meditations in 2005. Conceived as the first part of a musical trilogy, Meditations was succeeded by Axiom in 2007, and Dimensions in 2008 displaying once again The Lovetones’ mastery of psychedelic pop.
2008 saw the release of The Lovetones’ fourth album, Dimensions. The third part of the trilogy that began with Meditations, and recorded with the assistance of Los Angeles producer Rob Campanella, Dimensions showcases the depth, breadth and diversity of Tow’s songwriting and the band’s musicianship. The sparse galactic tones of Moonlit Suite compliment the lush pop arrangements of Journeyman, the invigorating melodies of Two of a Kind, A New Low in Getting High and Love and Redemption contrast with the subtle folk beauty of Look at the Waves and There is No Sound, while the concluding track, When It Comes invokes the Velvet Underground’s marriage of psychedelia and pop precision.
Lost continues The Lovetones’ exploration of the pop music form through the prism of 60s acid drenched dreamscapes and is another multi-faceted work that transcends time, space and fashion.
“Back in the 1960s, when the standard fare of the music industry was the catchy, radio-friendly single and albums were held together loosely with forgettable filler, record labels would capitalise on an artist’s success with a greatest hits record featuring previously released hit singles. Eventually the album became a worthy product of its own and, in the cyclical ways things happen, overtook the single in popularity. Commensurate with this development, the compilation album tended to appear later in an artist’s career, often reflecting the artist’s decline in output and the label’s naked desire to exploit their once-productive charge’s halcyon era.
The relevance to The Lovetones and their newly-released compilation album Provenance is two-fold. Firstly, The Lovetones are a band that captures and extends the best of the classic 1960s pop sensibility. Secondly, unlike the near-dead band relying on a greatest hits album to resuscitate a failing career, Provenance is a timely reminder of the songwriting brilliance of The Lovetones, and Matthew Tow in particular.
The Lovetones rose from the ashes of Tow’s previous band, the ’60s pop influenced Drop City, who despite experiencing a modicum of popular and critical success, found themselves a casualty of the late-1990s break-up between the independent music scene and the major labels. Tow headed over to the US where he hung out with Anton Newcombe and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, finding both a supporter for Tow’s songwriting and a kindred ’60s spirit. (In the early part of the century, The Lovetones would assume a central role in the now infamous Brian Jonestown Massacre tour of 2003.)
The Lovetones have gone on to release five studio albums and develop a strong live following – particularly in the US where arguably the band is better known than in Australia. Provenance collects the best tracks from their catalogue, capturing their marriage of pop sensibility and misty-eyed psychedelia.
It eschews a chronological progression, as well, choosing instead to chart a more diverse course across The Lovetones’ evolution. Tracks from the band’s debut album, Be What You Want (released on Greg Shaw’s Bomp! label in 2003), are nestled away later in the record. ‘Give It All I Can’ is awash with a frontal-lobe massaging sonic aesthetic, while perennial crowd-pleaser ‘The Sound and The Fury’ walks the perfect line between dirty garage rock riff and astral exploration. If the songwriting lacks the delicacy of later Lovetones material, the primitive aspect of the track captures the band’s original brazen attitude.
Many of The Lovetones’ subsequent releases should, in an ideal world, be pop classics in the commercially successful sense of the term. The opening track, ‘Mantra’ from 2005’s Meditations, builds gradually from the ground up: a simple drum beat, Matthew Sigley’s viscous bass lines and a culminating riff that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Ray Davies’ finest licks. Tracks such as ‘Wintertime in Hollywood’ from 2007’s Axiom and ‘Love and Redemption’ from 2008’s Dimensions are near-perfect pop songs, as elegant as Paul McCartney at the height of his musical powers. ‘I Gotta Feel’, also from Meditations, is the ideal soundtrack for a road trip anywhere, anytime. Close your eyes and listen to ‘Inside a Dream’ and you’re transported into a Lewis Carroll-like world of infinite possibility. ‘This Great Romance’, written by Sigley, sparkles and dazzles with the grace and beauty of a Victorian heroine. ‘There Is No Sound’ is the tender romantic lament many have purported to write, and most have failed dismally.
Beyond The Lovetones’ pop sensibility lies its indulgence of psychedelia. ‘Journeyman’, ‘City Meets the Stars’ and ‘Navigator’ capture the elastic dimension of the genre, both within the lyrical context, and in the stretching of a basic melody into broader musical territory. Unlike vapid practitioners of the psychedelic craft, The Lovetones know that at the heart of any great psychedelic exploration lies a simple structure – and sharp-edged melody – that holds the entire journey together. Sadly, one of The Lovetones’ finest live psychedelic moments, ‘Pictures’, isn’t included, though the Magical Mystery Tour-inspired ‘Stars’ does its best to convey the acid-freak sensibility of 1968. Co-written by the enigmatic Anton Newcombe, ‘A New Low’ could be a metaphor for his plummeting lifestyle, or maybe it’s just a cracking good song.
Provenance comes with a bonus DVD featuring live footage taken at a show at the Metro in Sydney in 2008 (from memory, during the band’s support slot for Brian Jonestown Massacre). The Lovetones have always been a band that revels in a live setting, and while the included footage doesn’t necessarily capture the enjoyment of one of their shows, it does give you a sense of the passion and intensity the band puts in.
(Patrick Emery, Mess + Noise)
Here we are now, five beautiful Lovetones albums later, all of them perfect, psychedelic rock masterpieces.
Three of these records, I had the distinct pleasure and experience of being involved with in different combinations of recording, producing, mixing, and/or performing on myself. I hold these records as some of the most dear I have been involved with – not the very least because of the quality of the songs I was blessed to work with. Matthew J Tow is one of these rare breed of musicians in this day and age, where the art of the song is paramount in importance.
Matt Tow is truly a conduit, and has melody and lyrics coming through him from the same place my heroes of the bygone “classic” eras have tapped into. Lennon, McCartney, Ray Davies, David Bowie, Neil Young and Paul Weller are just some of the names in my iPod that I have no problem playing side by side with Lovetones compositions. Add to these songs The Lovetones true secret weapon, Matt Sigley on bass, keyboards, vocals, and his own unique songwriting style, and all of a sudden we reach yet another level. Finally with the deep in the pocket, intuitive and musical drumming of one Christopher Cobb, and now we have a band that is even greater than the sum of its parts.
Not since the heyday of the Who do you find this quality of songwriting combined with the caliber of a band that can actually, for lack of a better term, kick ass. For those who
have heard the records and have seen the Lovetones live, they know they have witnessed something special. I have always said that in a perfect world (or in an earlier time period),
‘Wintertime In Hollywood’ would have been an enormous hit single, a song that becomes ubiquitous in the public consciousness, a celebration of life and love through melody and music. I still have faith that one day it will eventually get there, as this, and many other of the songs created by the Lovetones, are truly songs for all time. Let’s celebrate them now, shall we?
(Rob Campanella (The Quarter After, The Brian Jonestown Massacre)