The press release for the Donkeys’ second LP, Living on the Other Side, spends its first two paragraphs trying to convince the reader that the myth that “…everyone ‘out west’ is laid back, comfortable and cool” is just that—a myth. It’s too bad for the writer of the press release, then, that over the course of Living on the Other Side‘s 43 minutes, this San Diego four-piece seems to want nothing more than to buy into, reinforce and ultimately become subsumed by that very myth. Living on the Other Side is a delightful slice of sunny, hazy, California rock, the perfect soundtrack to a lazy Sunday afternoon spent daydreaming. Borrowing elements of blues, country and psych and simultaneously evoking both the Dead and the Beach Boys, the Donkeys come across as laid back to a fault, the type of guys for whom Malkmus’ slacking would probably smack of entirely too much effort.
Take opening number “Gone Gone Gone”. After laconically counting off “1… 2…1… 2… 3…”, the band sets sail, all lazily strummed guitars, steadily tapped hi-hats and lethargic rattles tracing out a gentle melody that recalls the Faces’ “Ooh La La”. Lead single “Walk Through a Cloud” ups the effort factor, though only slightly, adding organ, an uptempo drumbeat and a whole lot of three-part harmonies to the mix. “Dolphin Center”, meanwhile, follows a slow, bluesy gait while “Downtown Jenny” tells the tale of a girl who, despite her looks, is nothing but trouble (“Downtown Jenny / You look so pretty / And I don’t want you around”).
If you’re starting to get the feeling that Living on the Other Side could have been written at just about any point during the last four decades, you’re not alone—that fact certainly isn’t lost on the band. “Call me sentimental”, vocalist and drummer Sam Sprague sings on “Boot on the Seat”. “I love things that are old.”
This isn’t to say, however, that the Donkeys play the throwback card on every song. “Nice Train”, a loungey critique of hipster culture, is unmistakably a product of the information age—well, lyrically, at least. Over bluesy guitars and a herky-jerky hi-hat beat, Sprague recalls a night full of art shows, cheap fortified wine, “gay guys fawning” and a cell phone stuck in the corner pocket at a so-uncool-it’s-cool dive. Throughout the tale, Sprague never once tries to distance himself from his surroundings—rather, his observations, as tongue-in-cheek as they may be, are very much made from the inside, a fact that keeps the song from veering into Adbusters territory. As appreciated as this is, it’s not that surprising. After all, you wouldn’t expect a laid-back band like the Donkeys to make a big deal out of a few drinks at a bar.