2020, the fourth release by Northern California’s the Orange Peels, has a lot going for it. It’s a swift 36 minutes long, eight of the ten songs are power-pop sound blasts, and it’s just as perfect a soundtrack to washing your car in the afternoon sun as it is to taking an off-season stroll along the beach. The album’s greatest quality of all, however, is that sonically it’s in a close enough vein that describing it as a sunnier, less ingratiating version of Girls’ 2009 release Album isn’t far off. Both bands have rooted through the same pop used parts bin, but the Orange Peels left the shoegaze tones behind. What results is a snappier album that evokes both summer and autumn, but not in the Indian summer sense.
“We’re Gonna Make It”, the opening track, sends the listener scrambling for spring break gear before the first chorus even unfolds. This is in spite of a few lyrics about the fall, and a few contradictory lines, such as “We argued endlessly, we were the best of friends”. The constant contradictions, whether they be the summery vibes of the melodies clashing with the lyrics about red and golden leaves or the “we’re a couple now we aren’t” conflicts, are no more apparent than on 2020‘s title track. “And in my rearview crystal ball / Everything’s 2020”, sings vocalist and multi-tasking instrumentalist Allen Clapp, in an insinuation that he — or whomever the song’s protagonist may be — is looking to the future and the past at the same time. Maybe Clapp is just explaining how he crafts his melodies: by lifting musical cues from the past and flinging them out into tomorrow as bursts of indie pop that come and go just like the seasons.
The most successful concoctions here appear to be the aforementioned opener and title track, as well as “Seaside Holiday”, whose boppy piano line compels the listener to break out in the giddiest manner of ants-in-pants-style indie dancing. Whether the song is announcing itself on the beach or in a club where everyone is yearning for the warm weather so they can hit the beach, it’s never awkward. In 2020‘s second half, “Jane Lane” stands out thanks to a shimmery ’60’s pop intro and a blissful power pop chorus. By the album’s final song, the melancholy “Broken Wing”, lyrics and melodies are finally in concordance. It ends with the lines “I don’t know how this happened / Just really can’t see tomorrow”, an ironic closing to an album whose title refers to perfect vision.
For all its charms, however, 2020 offers more than a few hints of confusion. The constant references to the sea, stars, the moon, and butterflies seem to suggest a connecting thread among the songs. Is the album chronicling a failed romance through the seasons, using nature references as a clue to what month we’re in? If so, the allusions needed to be stronger. If not, then what do all these references mean, exactly?
Despite these questions, 2020 has enough jaunty beats to keep fussing to a minimum. Even if jaunty beats prove powerless, at least this album’s brevity won’t leave a curious listener cursing over wasted time (unlike that dreadful Girls album).