[28 July 2013]
Neil Young used to get really pissed off when people congratulated him on the success of “A Horse With No Name”. Even Young’s own father sent his appreciation. The only problem was, Young never wrote or sang that tune. The song was done by America, but they copied his sound and style so much that only the discerning few could tell the difference. Young resented this. So I wonder how America feels now when its band members hear Treetop Flyers’ “Things Will Change”. The English band uncannily resembles America, so much so that one could swear one is driving down Ventura Highway, in the summertime, etc. The similarities are eerie.
However, that is just one cut. The mostly acoustic folk rock of Treetop Flyers heavily borrows from a host of ‘70s American acts, mostly Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. That makes sense as the band took its name from a well-regarded Stephen Stills song. There are also nods and winks to other groups from the period, even Blue Oyster Cult on “Houses are Burning”. Whether the band intentionally mimics certain records or has just absorbed the music of the period so much is unclear.
And in terms of enjoying the record, that really doesn’t matter. If you like that period and style, you will find The Mountain Moves very pleasing. But on a deeper level, invoking the music of the early ‘70s during the 21st century suggests an affinity between the times. This part of the ‘70s was a very strange and somewhat dark time. Today is not that much different in terms of the anxiety of modern life. I am not saying Richard Nixon and Barack Obama are parallel beings as much as that contemporary experience feels as fraught to people today as it did back then. I am an old man. I remember.
In this regard, Treetop Flyers are missing… something. Laurie Sherman has the guitar riffs down. Reid Morrison’s vocals, especially on “Rose” and “Haunted House”, eloquently convey human emotions with its combination achingly rich expressiveness. He sings with a tightness in his throat that adds soulfulness to the music. But the songs are not really about anything. Sure, sometimes a line will stick out in an interesting way, and cuts such as “Postcards” and “Waiting for You” have considerable charm, but on the whole Treetop Flyers seem to be more retro than real. The music is decorative more than substantive and feels like pleasant wallpaper for your local coffee shop.
The original song “Treetop Flyer” concerned a pilot and smuggler who took too many chances just for the thrills. Stills does a good job of making the danger attractive. The band that took this name needs to take more chances to be continually stimulating. The songs need to have bite. The playing needs to take chances. The singer needs to reach notes without knowing for sure if he can hit them. They might crash and burn, but that would be a ride worth remembering!