The new release from 7-piece Manchester-based Bethlehem Casuals is colourful weirdness at its finest, and a much-needed hit of positive energy in these turbulent times. The concept behind the album is a tale of wit and absurdism: the story of a street dog on a journey to find out why there is no music left in Manchester. Each track is a thread weaving together this intricate narrative. In the tradition of sea shanties or folk songs, Bethlehem Casuals use mythical storytelling in their lyricism, with a touch of the surreal and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour.
Along with folk influences, the band incorporates a multitude of elements into their songwriting – from jazzy instrumental diversions, to swampy psychedelic tinges and disco beats. Such a diverse range of influences work together to create a rich, dynamic sound that is hard to pin down, making it all the more exciting. Resisting categorisation, the band seem to have the applaudable ethos of: as long as it makes people dance, who cares?
The album’s longest track, ‘The Passion’ – a 9 minute long musical excursion, doesn’t come across as indulgent. It skitters between genres so seamlessly and meticulously that it is able to hold even the shortest of attention spans. Pop-rock vocals effortlessly glide into cello-driven folksy interludes and erratic jazz melodies. As with the peppy final track ‘Change,’ the use of well-timed key and tempo changes make it a track that calls out for dancing. ‘The Oke’, one of the more obscure songs on the record, is equally compelling. Opening with ritualistic chanting and drums, floating into psychedelic grooves and back again, the track never rests in one place. The tension between the male growling and softer female vocals adds even more texture to a wacky, unpredictable soundscape.
When we can only dream of festivals, Bethlehem Casuals’ new album transports us to those places – sweaty, raucous, and full of energy. Their experimental style and lyricism transcends the mundane and is the pure escapism we need right now.