If you’re approaching Color of Sunshine expecting to hear traces of singer-songwriter Chad Hanson’s math and punk rock roots, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The sound of Field Notes lands closer to Hanson’s later poppier project Mines, but even that point of comparison won’t prepare anyone familiar with Hanson’s early work for just how far he has come as a songwriter who knows his way around both melody and hook.
Hanson’s interest in pop music was hinted at on Mines The Way the Wind Whips the Water, but that band still had a decidedly challenging approach to their songs featuring odd time signatures, off beat instrumentation and a tendency towards the angular dissonant riffs of math rock. On Color of Sunshine Hanson has decided to leave any traces of a progressive approach by the wayside, instead fully embracing his talents with traditional elements of guitar based pop songs.
At its best Color of Sunshine is an upbeat driving set of songs built around clever acoustic guitar hooks and Hanson’s handsome if undistinguished voice. Songs like “Sister Says” and “Racing the Lanes” easily find comparisons to the upbeat moments of Matt Pond PA, Nada Surf and Pedro the Lion. If you think those comparisons point towards a maturing in Hanson’s songwriting you’d be right. Unfortunately “mature” in the context of Color of Sunshine also connotes a certain tendency towards an unfocused feeling on the slower songs. Hanson seems to mistake lush washes of sound and unfolding atmospherics for moments of transcendence when really they’re just, well, dull.
Compare and contrast the songs “Sister Says” and “Always” and both the good and bad of Color of Sunshine comes shining through. “Sister Says” starts with an angular chiming riff and a steady simple beat; Hanson isn’t trying to do more than his voice can support. Instead he lets the muscular guitar work be the distinguishing element of the song. He repeatedly leaves and returns to the opening riff of the song before letting additional layered vocals and keyboards build the song towards an ending crescendo. It’s a simple but effective formula. On “Always” Hanson again opens with a simple guitar riff, but this time it’s heavy on echo and effects. When the vocals begin they’re breathy, distant and nearly unintelligible. It’s as if Hanson is broadcasting from another hazier dimension. Neither his vocals nor the guitar work distinguish themselves, both feel like supporting elements of a larger framework but with nothing to support we get four and a half minutes of waiting for something to happen.
Chad Hanson’s Field Notes may be a victim of growing pains as much as anything. Hanson’s songwriting is growing away from the more complex challenges of his early bands and towards a more traditional approach. As can be expected of a developing artist who’s reaching towards a previously unexplored sound there are ups and downs. In Hanson’s case the downs sound particularly uninspired, but the ups are as satisfying as anything so far in this young year.