A stadium full of empty seats,
See the wheels turning in the grease,
See the city and the empty streets,
A place where the misshaped monsters meets.
While many old-school goth and post-punk acts dipped themselves several toes to waist-deep into the boggy waters of swamp rock, Mancunian post-punk stalwarts Inca Babies dove headlong in, dredging up a grimy and grit-laden sound, establishing themselves as a cult act since forming in 1983.
Combining the aural stylings of Australian post-punk luminaries The Birthday Party, with American deathrock mainstays The Cramps, and The Gun Club, The Inca Babies made a name for themselves in the burgeoning UK Goth scene and were even championed by legendary DJ John Peel, recording four sessions for his BBC 1 Radio programme between 1984 and 1987.
The band recently returned with their eighth studio album Swamp Street Soul, clocking in at eleven scorching tracks. Now pared down to a trio, the Inca Babies are Harry Stafford (guitar, keys, vocals), bassist Vince Hunt (A Witness, Blue Orchids), and drummer Rob Haynes (The Membranes, Goldblade).
Swamp Street Soul guides us through the fog with shifting moods, and stellar songwriting, balladeering goth-punk, death-rock, and trash blues. Here Stafford brings skilled, skewed storytelling to his lyrics and songcraft.
Scratching a seven-year-itch, the album follows in the wake of their Death Blues Trilogy, Death Message Blues (2010), Deep Dark Blue (2012), and The Stereo Plan (2014). Swamp Street Soul, produced by Simon ‘Ding’ Archer (The Fall, PJ Harvey) at 6Db Studios, has rich dynamism, bringing to mind Link Wray, The Cramps, The Damned, Blur, and Wire.
Opening with a David Lynch-meets-spaghetti-western flair with the sleazy noir title track, the scene is set for a hell of a dark ride. “Walk In The Park” has a familiar jaunty bassline reminiscent of the classic “Walk Like A Camel” by Southern Culture On The Skids. The catchy “Slingshot” veers into Gang of Four rhythms, tempered with a croon similar to Bid of The Monochrome Set.
While most tracks veer into exciting new territory, tracks like “Dear English Journalists” and the reworking of “Crawling Garage Gasoline” retain the classic Inca Babies sound.
“Bigger Than All Of Us” reflects the chaos of our current moment in society. “I’m Grounded” is back in the blues contingent, sluggish and downtempo. “Oh The Angels How I Bless Them” continues this trend, opening with a whispering delivery reminiscent of latter-day Leonard Cohen. The tambourines and dark bass come out for “Windshield Gnat”, bringing a style reminiscent of classic Daniel Ash flourishes to the guitar work.
The album finishes out with the sultry “Mine of Bones”, a brilliant song with suave vocals and drum-driven groove that evokes a chimera of Lux Interior and Iggy Pop. As a closing treat, the record is bookended with a dub reprise of “Swamp Street Soul”.
At once intense and atmospheric – straying occasionally into menacing – the band stays true to their roots while tiptoeing into a new corner of the swamp. Their delightfully eerie guitar work and hypnotic drumming highlight the expert narrative: distorted, shapeshifting, and effortlessly cool.
“This ‘Crawling Garage Gasoline’ is a revisiting of a 1980s Inca’s classic, all bluster and ‘pedal to the metal’ speed punk,” Stafford explains. “It’s a tale of the descent into the maelstrom but don’t forget to get some gas along the way. The urge to re-record this came from its popularity as a live song at recent Inca gigs, now pared down and with more bite, it has certainly stood the test of time.”
Swamp Street Soul is out now digitally across various platforms. Listen below:
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Photography by Steve Nicholl