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Photo: York Wilson

Chris Stamey: Euphoria

By looking backward, Chris Stamey manages to see a bright, euphoric future, one colored just as much by his influences as his own illustrious career.
Chris Stamey
Yep Roc

In the 21st century, Yep Roc has become something of a facilitator for career renaissances for a host of celebrated critical favorites. Beginning with 2001’s The Convincer, Nick Lowe released a string of fantastic albums that saw an impeccable return to form. Similarly, Robyn Hitchcock and Paul Weller put out some of the best work of their respective careers on Yep Roc. With these critically acclaimed new albums elevating the status all three artists’ careers, their back catalogs were soon repackaged and reissued, again to widespread accolades.

Following the precedent set by Lowe, Hitchcock, and Weller, Chris Stamey too has seen his profile continue to rise in recent years. With the release of Euphoria, he may well have reached a new level of greatness. A founding member of the beloved dB’s and Sneakers, Stamey has long since proven himself more than capable of impeccably crafted pop hooks. But on Euphoria he ups the ante, delivering ten songs loaded with timeless pop that points both to the music’s past and present without feeling overly nostalgic or of-the-moment.

On “Where Does The Time Go?” he ponders the titular question while surrounded by echoes of pop’s past: Beatles-esque horns married with Big Star-like melodicism, all lovingly embraced by warm strings and a massive, vaguely familiar hook. A lyrical exploration of how quickly time seems to pass despite constant reminders to take one’s time, “Where Does The Time Go?” also eludes to the non-linear nature of time as experienced through music in that something recorded years ago can be listened to as though it were recorded today. By musically hinting at bygone eras, this theme is made slightly more overt.

Harkening back to pop’s golden age, no more appropriate title could be applied to Euphoria. Throughout, it’s clear that Stamey and company are enjoying themselves to no end. You can almost hear the smile in Stamey’s voice nearly every time he hits a triumphant chorus or witty lyrical aside. On the title track, nothing short of pure euphoria is achieved as the group drives ahead through a strangled guitar line into straight ahead psychedelic territory. It’s a heady trip that updates the genre’s more outré experiments, perfectly merging with the late-period Beatles-aping “Awake In The World” that quickly follows.

Augmenting his jangly power pop with horns, “Make Up Your Mind” sounds plucked from Ardent Studios circa 1972. Like so many of the songs here, “Make Up Your Mind” plays with the notion of the past within the present, offering hints of Stamey’s personal musical past as well as his most direct influences. Given his great love of Big Star, it’s not at all surprising how large a shadow that band has cast not only over Stamey’s entire career but also Euphoria.

Only on “You Are Beautiful” do the influences come to dominate to the detriment of the song. An aching power pop ballad, it can’t help but be heard as an approximation of the Joe Cocker tune, especially on the song’s quieter, more vulnerable moments. Fortunately, it quickly moves into a more fleshed out arrangement more in keeping with the rest of the album, but when it moves back to the titular phrase it begins to sound a bit too much like Ben Folds to be as convincing as nearly everything else here. But this is little more than a minor sticking point on a largely exceptional album of impeccably rendered power pop.

Essentially functioning as a career overview from a stylistic standpoint, it reconciles all the best facets of Stamey’s career into one cohesive whole. It’s not only a triumphant late-career statement, but also one which could well come to define the whole of his career.

RATING 8 / 10