The moments of great change in our life don’t always start out feeling like a grand realization. You won’t find yourself struck by any particular event and immediately realize that there’s been a noticeable shift and it won’t come to you with a blinking neon sign that says “Hi, I’m change.” It’s more of a natural wear — you know, erosion and such. Any number of people can speak to that, but none have yet to make the transition seem quite as effortless as the Canterbury pop-rock project Holy Pinto has on their new EP, Tales from the Travelling T-Shirt Salesman.
In the two years since the release of their stunning debut album Congratulations, a lot has changed for the band. Namely, they halved in size when and lost founding member Ryan Hurley, who decided that the wear and tear of the road wasn’t worth watching the relationships he’s worked so hard to nurture at home start to slowly decay. You can’t blame him for wanting to settle down — it’s hard to lead a life that has any semblance of normalcy when you spend the majority of it on the move. The other half of Holy Pinto, the vocalist and songwriter Aymen Saleh, found himself on the polar opposite of that spectrum. Sure, he’d love a “normal” life, but his pull to the open road and constant connection with the world around him is something that he just can’t ignore. And so, he continued to write, record, and prepare for another trip around this floating rock in the sky.
The new record is called Tales from the Travelling T-Shirt Salesman. It’s a tongue-in-cheek jab at what it means to be a touring musician in 2018, but also an apt summary of the songs that listeners can expect from Holy Pinto on this go-round. From the jump, you’ll notice the sound feels a lot more tropical; there’s an island breeze kind of warmth to these songs that pulls you in, pours you a drink, and begs you to see the night through with them. “Gold Leaf” is a cold open to the record — no time is wasted on semantics, instead we’re thrown right into the relationship woes that come with being a touring musician. You’ll hear that it’s selfish and that all progress is paused, and for what? So you can sell a couple t-shirts and play shows to fives and tens of kids? This conversation is dressed up with a dancey rhythm and a chorus of “I’ll buy you flowers from the petrol station/Just to prove that I miss your touch/You said you still love my music/but I go away too much.”
The trend continues into “Bitter Enemies.” A title like that is usually saved for a scathing, off the rales moment of cathartic release; you expect everything to crash around you like a wall of sound and to lose yourself to the emotional outpouring, and that couldn’t be further from what you get here. Instead, the heartache is shrouded in the sounds of summer; warmth radiates through the kind of marimba vibes that radiate from the song’s musicality. Saleh says, “I was listening to a lot of old Italian pop songs at the time and wanted to write a musically warm-sounding song, as vague as that sounds! I always wanted to put a cumbia groove in a song and so built this song off that.” Continuing with, “From quite early on, I envisaged this song as a follow-up to the long and meandering track “Best Pals” that we put out a couple of years ago, hence “Bitter Enemies” as the response. This is a song about fears and their ownership over you. It speaks to how fearful thoughts can become cyclical. It creates a casual and loose dichotomy of there being positive and negative thoughts and personality traits; your inner-friend and your inner-enemy. I feel like it starts friendly and then ends fierce.”
My personal favorite from the record is called “Very Adult.” The track marries a slew of the project’s influences — you can hear tinges of indie rock’s savior of video OK Go, the kind of off-kilter melody of The Front Bottoms, and the wit of Los Campesinos! The resulting culmination feels a little Peter Pan Syndromey; a bit of snark and snarl can be heard around the phrase “It all got very adult” that is immediately followed by jangly guitars and rapid-fire drums. It’s a perfect slice of pop-rock that I can’t help but sink my teeth every single time that it comes on.
Tales from the Travelling T-Shirt Salesman is just that — a handful of stories brought to you by a songwriter that can’t stop doing what he loves, no matter the toll it takes. It’s the kind of record that shows growth without alienation by picking up where Congratulations left off without trying to repeat the formula. Instead, Saleh took his newfound independence and decided to spice things up, adding a little bit of summery island vibes to his already pristine pop-rock, and the result is an experience that feels truly magical from start to finish.
Tales from the Travelling T-Shirt Salesman is out June 23rd on Halloween Records and can be pre-ordered here.