[22 June 2009]
Of all the seasons in pop life (which, let’s face it, is almost as important as real life), summer can be the trickiest and least satisfying. The physical getaways from work or school that mark this time of year are often mirrored in the escapist fare trotted out at the multiplex, as well as the inconsequential club jams and catchy but light rock fluff that often serves as the soundtrack to June beach parties, July afternoons at the mall, and the dog days of channel surfing in August.
How great and ultimately refreshing it is, then, to be greeted—just in time for commencement ceremonies, road trips, and cookouts—with a true summer album. All the Colors from Long Beach quintet Greater California not only relays the carefree spirit of the season in requisite, buoyant, Brian Wilson-esque tones, but it captures the idle moments and lazy lulls which summer brings, expressing them with psychedelic peaks and valleys and instances of slow-burning rock and roll.
In press materials accompanying the album, the band’s desire to revisit “...endless possibilities ... the optimism of being young ... a sound inspired by the experiences of growing up in California during the 1970s” is expressed. The album’s opening track and title cut ably initiates that pursuit. Less than three minutes long, “All the Colors” is a pop gem dressed up in sweet harmonies and bouncy piano figures, and punctuated with sprightly guitar passages and active drum fills. The track is reminiscent of the brightest, most cheerful expressions found in Ben Folds’s current incarnation as a solo artist.
Similar tracks include the glorious “The Foolish Son”, which recreates a retro pop vibe that is distinctly So-Cal, the surf rock of “Charmer”, with its old-school guitar/organ riffs and day-dreamy melody, and “Five Senses”, which matches ‘90s alternative-rock sounds with the sun-kissed vocals that remain consistent throughout the record.
“Almost Sunshine” is the ultimate example of Greater California’s ability to dial back the enthusiasm and yet maintain the effortless melodic sensibilities heard in merrier tracks. If “All the Colors” finds the young-at-heart racing out the front door in search of summer adventure, “Almost Sunshine” is the mellow track playing on their ride home. Here, Terry Prine waxes eloquent about the “warm gulf wind” that “makes its way through the alley” and gives the listener a sense that even though the sun is getting pinker and less visible, it’s still providing meaning and illumination. Less successful but similar in tone is the six-and-a-half minute “It’s Great”, a slow-churning rock song which is the most psychedelic and progressive thing on the album.
All the Colors ends in grand fashion with “The Soft Lights”, a five-minute-plus suite for summer. The track begins simply, with the ever-present layering of vocals set gently against a minimal, percussive backdrop. Just over two minutes in, a killer drum fill leads the song toward its next section, a blend between surf rock and the jangly groove of a Byrds or Tom Petty tune. A Calexico-like horn flourish and a dulcet vibraphone passage put the final exclamation points on the track, which is almost a retrospective of the album as a whole.
Perfectly joyful and enjoyable, but retaining a measure of substance and artistic integrity, All the Colors is a summer record for all seasons.