Summer Winners/Summer Losers by California’s Bikeride is an odds-and-ends collection of 19 assorted singles, B-sides, and rarities, destined to be labeled by many critics as “sunny”, “groovy”, “fun”, and maybe even “zany”. I suppose that some evidence can be found to support such praiseworthy words. One might boldly proclaim that Bikeride’s arrangements are bouncy and bright, that their hooks are catchy, and that their lyrics are wildly enjoyable. It certainly does not hurt that Bikeride make extensive use of a wide array of refreshing instruments, from ukuleles to penny whistles to toy pianos. Of course, there are also the obligatory Beach Boys comparisons, which could be deemed appropriate and encouraging here. On the surface, it is feasible that someone might hear in Summer Winners/Summer Losers a fine little indie pop gem.
But that person is surely not me. I listened and listened to no avail: I devoted far too much time to an album that is completely and utterly average, nothing more or less. Sure, all the above praises that are bound to be thrown Bikeride’s way are not inexplicable. I can understand why someone would dig Summer Winners/Summer Losers. However, I feel that this recent indie fetish for sunny Beach Boys pop filtered through the fuzzy melodies of the Pixies has gone stale and is now practically molding. The only context in which this style has truly succeeded is in the radically ambitious and experimental work of the Olivia Tremor Control. The OTC, unlike Bikeride, take the retro-pop and psychedelic vibe and fuse it with their well-honed indie rock skills, and then proceed to push their sonic brew to the absolute extremes, taking unparalleled and under-appreciated risks in the process. On the other hand, Summer Winners/Summer Losers comes off as completely innocuous; songs that should technically be sparkling and infectious, with luminous titles like “A Summer Song” and “Here Comes the Summer”, end up being dry and lifeless.
The problem with Summer Winners/Summer Losers may be the fact that it is a compilation of more obscure recordings and not a proper album (1997’s Here Comes the Summer and 1999’s 37 Secrets I Told America are Bikeride’s two “real” albums to date), resulting in definite thematic disorientation and an obvious lack of cohesion. Or maybe it’s just the fact that lead singer Tony Carbone sounds a little too much like Perry Farrell. Either way, I honestly felt like the hooks on Summer Winners/Summer Losers should have, or at least would eventually, embed themselves in my brain. It never happened, but rather than be too disappointed, I turned to OTC’s sprawling 1999 masterpiece Black Foliage and realized that there is potential to excel in this genre. I’ll just have to wait for the next OTC opus.