Golden Daze Get Chill and Mellow on the Folky 'Simpatico'
Golden Daze's second album, Simpatico, is good music for relaxing, maybe not as good for careful listening.
15 February 2019
The first time I listened to Simpatico, the second album from Golden Daze, I couldn't get into it. It was too hazy, too laid back, and there wasn't enough forward motion to the songs for me to connect. After several more times through the record, I'm pleased to report that I'm now on board with the duo's lazy, folky vibe. But I still don't think Simpatico is a great album.
"Blue Bell" opens the record with a quiet wash of synths, which immediately gives way to some quickly finger picked folky acoustic guitar. Shortly thereafter, Jacob Loeb and Ben Schwab sing together in harmony, "Maybe I should stick around." The harmony continues throughout the song and, it turn out, for much of the album. In this song, though, the vocals and guitar anchor the track while other sounds drift in and out. There's are drum fills here and there (no steady beats, just fills), some synth burbles, a hint of electric guitar near the end, and eventually the wash of synths returns and transitions seamlessly into "Amber", the record's second song. As a mission statement for the album, "Blue Bell" definitely does the job, because the rest of Simpatico is definitely cut from the same cloth.
This is great if one is just looking to throw on a folk album and relax for 36 minutes. The 11 songs here present a chilled out vibe, without much variation in tempo or style. It's calming and pleasant, and it's very easy to turn on the beginning of the album and check what seems like a few minutes later only to discover that you're now on track nine. But it's not so great in terms of songwriting and variety. Golden Daze do pretty much one thing, and they do it quite well, but stylistically it sometimes makes it hard to differentiate between songs.
So what sets a medium-slow folk song like "Flowers" apart from a medium-slow folk song like "Took a Fall"? Well, "Flowers" has a pair of gentle electric guitar riffs, while "Took a Fall" uses a decaying, echoing synth note to punctuate its lines in the verses and has a bit of personality in its guitar playing instead of just strummed chords. That hint of personality is probably why "Took a Fall" is the album's second single after "Blue Bell", which also has personality due to its finger-picked guitars.
Golden Daze have the good sense to keep their songs succinct. The majority of these tracks hover in the three-minute zone, which is about right. These are simple songs, with one or two musical ideas each, and they mostly finish up before they wear out their welcome. Despite the overall lack of variety here, there's just enough difference between individual songs that they contribute to the vibe of the album without inducing boredom from the repetition of a single melody or riff.
So a song like "Wayward Tide", with more acoustic fingerpicking, slow, beachy slide electric guitar licks, and dreamy, drifting vocals that never bother to arrive at a chorus floats on its vibe for three minutes and fades away. Similarly, the low-key pop of "Drift", with one of the few full band arrangements on the album, is catchy but basic. There may be drums, organ, and bass, but the guitar and vocal melodies are pretty simple and the song construction doesn't even include a bridge. So the duo wisely wraps it up after two and a half minutes and it retains its charm.
Each listen to Simpatico seems to bring out more character in the individual songs, which does make me wonder. If I spent, say, another month with this record would I genuinely come to think it was great? Maybe it's the vocals that seem to be delivered from under a filter permanently set to "hazy" making Simpatico seem more monochrome than it actually is. But then the album finishes up with the medium-slow title track, featuring gently strummed acoustic guitars, beachy slide electric guitar licks, and a very relaxed vocal delivery and I'm right back to "Oh yeah, this album really does just have one vibe." So who knows? For now, my assessment of Simpatico still lands on "highly listenable but without very much variety, good if you're looking for music to just relax to".