The Afternoons: Rocket Summer

The Afternoons
Rocket Summer
Saturday
Available as import

There’s always a need for mellow pop, particularly in the summer. It provides a musical place of comfort in which one can get lost and float away on inner thoughts and distant dreams. Those seeking such a place should give a long listen to Rocket Summer, the delightful new collection from the Afternoons.

This moog-splashed twee pop provides a confectioner’s dose of dreamy sweetness, courtesy of Richard Griffiths (vocals, guitar), Pete Morgan (drums, percussion), Sarah Rapi (bass, vocals), Paul Rapi (keys, vocals), Andrew Walters (violin, viola), and Jason Huxely (lead guitar).

The band was formed in 1999 when five friends from Cardiff, Wales were united by a common love of David Bowie and curry. The Bowie influence isn’t very noticeable on this current release. Rather, the dreamy hook-filled pop suggests links to bands like Belle and Sebastian, the Lucksmiths, the Shins, Teenage Fanclub, the Trashcan Sinatras, the Housemartins, and others.

The pleasant opening title track lulls you into a sort of happy mid-tempo stupor while en route to Mars, a lyrical fantasy wherein you don’t get old and your skin looks good in the sun (sign me up for that voyage).

Happy synth-notes introduce “Baby, You Know the Deal”, but the lyrics are darker than the music would indicate, addressing times when one feels down. “Let’s Fall Apart” is a congenial ballad about trying to begin again in a relationship where things haven’t been going all that well: “Love left you numb / Made you stare at the rain / Let’s fall apart, take it back to the start again.” Paul Rapi’s accent notes on the synthesizer are just right here.

While it might be too slow a song for some people, the stark acoustic beauty of “Fading Fast” works well for me. This bittersweet examination of the transcendence of existence, night to day, season to season, is marvelously accented with Andrew Walters’ strings. “Coast Road” is a summer song about driving toward a future and never looking back (with extra points for name-checking the Velvets). Infectious moog accents and joyous handclaps make “You’ll Never Know” a likely candidate for a single. The upbeat happiness of the melody works well against the confessional lyrics: “I didn’t throw your clothes across the lawn / I didn’t stay up drunk ’til dawn / I didn’t grow a beard to my feet / I didn’t lose the will to eat / But you’ll never know that it didn’t hurt so bad / You’ll never know that I got over you.” Richard Griffiths has a real gift for writing catchy songs that strike genuine emotional notes.

“Never Tell Anybody Anything” is surprisingly up-tempo, recalling all sorts of new wave music from years past (Aha, anyone?) while expressing concern about a young person’s family problems. “Looking For a Reason” is a less successful ballad, coming off as a little whiney, a lovelorn guy constantly reminded of his love, looking for a reason to live without her (sometimes pop hyperbole backfires).

“Tides” continues the successions of slow ballads. It’s more lovelorn reminisce, but done a bit more cleverly with lyrics like this: “The photograph I never took is kept next to my heart / The one you’ll never get to see / It shows you walking on the sand / Laughing in the twilight / but it was never meant to be.” Here the sensitive musings come across as genuine.

“You Are” is the only piano ballad, a happy and dramatic love song (at last). It’s always nice to know that some love scenarios do work out: “You are the compass that tells me where I’m going / When there is no way of knowing / You are the girl who stopped me from shaking / When my heart was tired of breaking / And you let me live my life”. Richard Griffiths’ vocals are superb here (in an almost “Long and Winding Road” mode), couched in a lush wall of great production.

One of the things I like about this CD is how the songs are arranged chronologically. The record starts at the beginning of summer and progresses into the fall. One of my favorites here is “In Flames”, a relatively unadorned yet poignant song for the end of summer. Pete Morgan does a nice job with the drumming, as Mr. Griffiths relates the changes that are ensuing: “Now it’s over / Taste it in her kiss / Bittersweet where there once was only bliss / Once her eyes were full of things that shone / But tomorrow they will all be gone.”

The CD closes with another beautiful and slightly sad song, “Canada Geese”. It’s September now — the summer and its memories are fading fast — and the geese in flight mark an end to things (and also the end of the album): “Tall September shadows fall and it grows dark / You chase the scattered leaves that skate across the park / The trail of geese has disappeared into the blue / Now every time I see them I will think of you.”

These twelve songs of sweet mellow pop are a lovely and dreamy travelogue to take you through a magical Rocket Summer. The Afternoons are a very easy listen due to the mellifluous vocals of Griffiths and Sarah Rapi. Griffiths (alone and with Peter Morgan) writes savvy and often-beautiful songs that are introspective, reflective, and sensitive, yet manage to avoid overwrought clichés. Fans of this sort of dreamy twee music should get a copy of Rocket Summer quickly, allowing plenty of time yet to enjoy the seasonal music on the beach or as backdrop to a long romantic coastal drive.

RATING 7 / 10
PopMatters