Put the needle down on any of the nine tracks of Meat Bones Chemicals Electricity, and you’re instantly thrown back in time. Judging by the songs he writes, Eamon Ra (born Eamon Nordquist) sounds like he was weaned on a steady diet of late 1960s Kinks, Zombies, and Byrds, as well as more recent psychedelic troubadours like Robyn Hitchcock and Paul Weller at his most Beatlesque. It’s the sound of Swinging London, courtesy of the present-day Pacific Northwest.
The Ireland-born, U.S.-bred Nordquist is a former member of local Seattle bands Sterling Loons and Truly, but Meat Bones Chemicals Electricity is his first solo effort. And “solo” is taken almost literally here. Other than a handful of drummers (including Mark Pickerel of Screaming Trees), Nordquist handles everything you hear – vocals, guitar (with an emphasis on 12-string), bass, and an ever-present Mellotron. He even illustrated the ambitious, charming lyric book that comes with the album. While it may have been recorded only recently, the album has the sound that harkens back to decades past. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Nordquist’s singing voice is a dead ringer for Ray Davies, which only helps the songs come off as long-lost garage band nuggets.
But while it sounds on paper like aimless, derivative noodling, Nordquist refuses to coast on nostalgia. The songs here – all classic single-length tracks, coming in at a total of just under a half-hour – are expertly crafted pop gems, beginning with the chiming British Invasion stylings of “Future History”. “On this day in history / Yesterday’s future was born,” Nordquist sings over crashing drums and fuzzy bass runs. And it doesn’t stop there – “Pitchforks and Torches” shifts to a more leisurely tempo and an uncanny ear for melody that brings the old-school baroque pop touches even more into focus. It’s on this song that Nordquist first namechecks the album’s title, which is his way at looking at existence on an abstract level (meat, bones, chemicals, and electricity being what we’re all made of and what makes us all the same).
But despite the occasional existence-pondering, Nordquist is all too happy just making good, classic pop music. The lyrics – also another throwback, on a thematic level – are almost maddeningly positive. On the winsome “Kiss Someone You Love”, he sings, “The train station agent / Announcing from above / Said they don’t know when you’re coming back / So kiss someone you love.” On the bluesy, lazy “Fun to Be Had” – which sounds like Andy Partridge channeling John Lennon – Nordquist is in total glass-half-full mode, looking back on the good times and refusing to obsess over the bad. “Having fun / Maybe you’ve heard about the things I’ve done / Some were good, and some were not so good, I admit.” The more cynical listener might interpret this as hippy-dippy word salad, but the wide-eyed optimism works beautifully with the sunny power-pop and peerless hooks.
Nordquist is great at taking fairly straightforward instrumentation and using it to the songs’ advantage, the secret weapon is the Mellotron, which he employs generously throughout the album. But it never seems like a gimmick or a retro-leaning curiosity. It provides gorgeous texture throughout the songs, whether it’s the hard-driving bash of “Waiting for the Morning” or the rustic acoustic folk of “Nightingale”. It even helps elevate some of the album’s (very few) less-than-inspiring moments, like “Happiest Day in History”, a bouncy shuffle that’s the closest thing this album has to a throwaway.
On the closing track “Such Good Friends”, Nordquist pays a debt of gratitude to friends who helped him through a serious, sidelining health crisis with lyrics that are both refreshingly simple and earnest. “All you sisters and misters it’s true / should know I appreciate all the good that you do.” Nordquist’s sincerity and optimism are overflowing on this engaging solo debut, and the nine songs are chock full of memorable riffs and melodies. This would have sounded magical in 1968, and it sounds downright glorious today.