[16 June 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Beach Day is the kind of band you’d be forgiven for thinking is glamorous. After all, they come from Hollywood. But wait! Not that Hollywood. Try Hollywood, Florida. Still, despite being from the East Coast, the group certainly has a very retro-West Coast sound. That might be odd, considering that Hollywood, Florida – while being a beach town wedged between Miami and Fort Lauderdale – is better known for being more of a geriatric community: a place where people don’t go to sun and surf, but, rather, to die. Even the buildings and diners are said to be ported in from the 1950s, giving the place that forgotten-about quality. And it seems that gainful employment, at least if you’re in a band, isn’t exactly prevalent in Hollywood, Florida. All three members of Beach Day, two women and a dude, live together and work at the Smoothie Palace, which sounds to be the McJob to end all McJobs. (This also could be the set-up for a new sitcom called Two Girls, A Guy and a Smoothie Palace.) So now that Beach Day have a full-length debut album out now called Trip Trap Attack, and try rolling that one off your tongue really fast, maybe the band’s fortunes will change and they may be able to afford a plane ticket so they can try living on the side of the continent that their brand of surf rock, ‘60s girl group and garage sounds more or less either originated from or was the soundtrack to during a particularly nostalgic past era.
Trip Trap Attack certainly has a sunny disposition, even when vocalist/guitarist Kimmy Drake is singing about having her heart broken in seventeen million different places on some of these songs. And it could be said that a great deal of the album is so reverential to mining a style that’s now 50 years old to fault that how much you love the record will hinge upon whether or not you like ‘60s pop and appreciate that Beach Day is part of a long line of more recent bands that have paid homage to the girl group aesthetic, in whole or in part, such as Cults, Tennis, Vivian Girls, Best Coast, and many others. And the album is satisfactorily tinny and trebly – though some of that may be due to the fact that the only access that I got was in the form of a private streaming Soundcloud page, which, truth be told, is not exactly the most hi-fi way of experiencing what a band is capable of. Still, Trip Trap Attack is a record that has that AM transistor radio thing going on, so the band is really trying to capture an era with their music rather than forge their own path – for the most part. (There are a couple of notable exceptions, which I will divulge in a moment.)
This also means that Trip Trap Attack is also gleefully disposable: some of the songs have that B-side, tossed off and rushed quality to them, especially given that they all sound live and off-the-floor. Beach Day is a band that doesn’t generally employ fades, content to just let their songs drift into a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format. And, yes, the band’s lack of originality can be scratched on the surface by looking at the track listing for the record: Not only is there a song named after the album, but another is the same as the band name. (Shades of Living In a Box, anyone?) This is not necessary egregious: There’s a certain charm to a band being so blunt and raw and primal. But, chances are, you’ve already heard Beach Day before hearing a drop of their music, if not in other indie-retro acts, then in your dad’s or, depending how old you are, your grandfather’s record collection. At which point you may be begging to ask, what’s the point? Well, outside of having a good time and trying to escape the narrow confines of the community the band is stuck in by wading into pop’s glorious and colorful past, not much. Though there are exceptions, and they’re stuck at the end of the album. But hold your horses; I’ll get to that.
There are a few things that are generally appealing about Beach Day, for all of their interest in throwbacks to a simpler era. Drake’s voice is a wonderful cross between Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s and Stevie Nicks, though Drake paradoxically sounds completely original and distinct despite any further connections you may want to make to Ronnie Spector. And speaking of Drake, her guitar work sometimes has that Joey Santiago tone found in some of those not-quite-so-old and beloved Pixies songs, tying Beach Day not only to the surf material of the ‘60s but more modern indie rock as well. And, it turns out, that’s actually a bit of an ambition of the band: to bow not only at the holy temple of ‘60s pop, but also more modern music.
Evidence of this comes in the final two songs on Trip Trap Attack: “Am I the Only One”, the penultimate song here, forgoes the fast muscle cars and surfboards for a melancholic approach that recalls the early ‘80s wistfulness of a fellow Southern band, Let’s Active. The song is so disarming and different from much of the material on Trip Trap Attack, you really have to wonder what it’s doing here. But be glad that it’s present, for it’s the best thing to be found on the entire album, bar none, with a melody anyone who is lovelorn might find themselves humming on the way to the swimming hole. And then the final song, “We’ve Gotta Go”, is suitably garage-ish, sounding remarkably Black Keys-ish with just a dose of Stones-y swagger for good measure. If it can be said that the final song of a record – and, in this case, the final two songs – points the way to how a group will sound on the follow-up album, it seems that Beach Day may just abandon the beach for something else entirely. And that may be a good thing, considering how limiting the ‘60s single formula can be. It says a lot when the Vivian Girls’ last record, Share the Joy, had a couple of six-minute jams bookending the piece – they’d seemingly discovered, to some extent, the limitations of three chord melodies delivered in two-minute punches. So, too, by Trip Trap Attack’s end, it seems with Beach Day.
Despite the fact that some of the tracks are just plain silly (what is, in fact, a “Trip Trap Attack”?) and much of the album could be categorized as merely enjoyable instead of revelatory, if you’re looking for a suitable soundtrack to sitting in the sand beside a body of water while reading a good book and taking in the sun’s rays, Trip Trap Attack is about as good a fix as any. Beach Day will not win any awards for being the most original band in the universe based on this album, but the group is competent enough to provide a somewhat winning formula – though the beach theme may wear a bit thin over subsequent albums, so it’ll be interesting to see if the group does indeed abandon this direction for something else, as hinted towards album’s end. Escapism may be the name of the game here, not only in the genres of music mined but a certain ambition to move away from working in a Smoothie Palace full time. Whether the band succeeds or not largely depends on a public’s appetite for something already quite familiar. In any event, one thing is kind of funny: Ronnie Spector has a song in her discography called “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”. Beach Day, it seems, wants to say the same thing. Just on the other side of the country, and by mining a style of music that was, until now, buried in the same sands of time that the boardwalk beside the ocean in their Florida town was built on top of.