Mike Park seems to have his head firmly on his shoulder and his heart in the right spot. As the president of an organization called The Plea for Peace Foundation, this member of punk bands Skankin’ Pickle and the Chinkees believes the glass is more than half full. And with this label, which donates close to a dollar of each sale to charities, it sounds as if he’s certainly found the right home. His debut album tends to show Park wearing his heart and messages on his sleeve and acoustic guitar neck perhaps a bit too often and at the cost of great pop nuggets. Nonetheless, it’s still a decent album all the same.
Park uses an acoustic guitar for the opening tune “Supposed to Be There Too”, but it’s as if he is trying to recapture “Disarm”, the Smashing Pumpkins song in the same vein somewhat. But as Park’s moves deeper into the track, the strings are supplanted by his soft and subtle style, recalling the Goo Goo Dolls with their first hint of stardom. It is a very good tune but takes just a tad too long to find its footing. “And the fighting on the dance floor makes things hard tonight,” Park sings prior to wrapping the song up adequately. Later on the same format is replicated on “Thankful All the Same”. “On that Stage” gets off to a better start, with his faster strumming and pacing leading into a touch of percussion. The tune works simply for the sweet harmonies halfway through while the beat comes in and out throughout.
What is probably one of the truly grand tracks is the slow waltz oozing from “Counting Sheep”. Park sounds like he’s being a bit too jaded on the song, but it’s the melody and chorus that keeps your interest piqued. “I’m losing and I don’t expect to win and I can’t stay here with you”, he sings before a fuller sound comes to the fore. It even crosses into an alt. country sound with the weary guitar bridge and strumming leading the ditty along. Another perk is that he takes his good ol’ time on the song as it glides through five minutes and change. As appealing as that was though, “Challenging Me” sounds tired and forced. Using the acoustic guitar but with an alternative rock feeling, it might do a bit better with, dare I say it, an accordion added to it to give it extra texture. “I’m as bored as can be”, he sings, and it actually sounds like he means it on this tune.
The bass line on “Just Like This” is brilliant and gets you into the infectious pop nugget from the get go. Recalling early XTC, Park captures the moment and bottles it for this disc, something that isn’t always easy to translate. “I really want to record you just like this”, Park sings before the tight yet intricate guitar chords take over this head-bobbing beauty. If there’s one drawback, it might be that it doesn’t last nearly as long as you’d want it to, but that’s comes with the territory of a pristine pop song. The same could be said of “Train Maps”, although here Park evokes the ghost of Crowded House or R.E.M. to better than expected results.
“From Korea” is a bland tune musically, but it has some of the best Costello-wise lyrics here. “I’m not like you / I’m from Korea / My eyes are small but your eyes are closed”, Park sings in the song about different types of prejudices. “Hey You!” is another sweet pop rock tune that Park nails with ease, making the homestretch quite enjoyable. It might be just too polished during the chorus, but I’m probably nit picking here. The album is good and for a great cause. And anyone who includes an annual photo from cradle to high school and beyond in the liner notes deserves either credit or a medal for bravery.
// Notes from the Road
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