Gary Strickland loves himself some Beach Boys. There is no doubt about it. But, just as surely, he’s also got a love of, and appreciation of the lineage of, ’80s modern rock guitar pop bands like the Jesus ad Mary Chain and the Primitives. Still, one listen to Sunshine Skyway and the first thing you’d notice would be the Wilson-entrenched pop underground sunny-ness.
Strickland, the multi-instrumentalist frontman for the band Honeyrider, has been writing and recording under that moniker since the late 1990s. Having previously released two critically acclaimed albums, All Systems Go! and Splashdown, to decent success, all sights are on Strickland to see if he can recreate the magic. Sunshine Skyway is, happily, more of the same, if not better. The songs on this disc sparkle with a summer’s midday sun, evoking mod California surfers and Florida beach bunnies with a remarkable ease. There are shades of everyone from Too Much Joy to Fountains of Wayne to the Mockers in these guitar pop songs, but Strickland’s particular gift for pulling in modern rock tones adds an edge to these songs that sets Honeyrider just far enough apart from their compatriots to be unique.
Take for instance “Hello Tokyo”. In some ways it sounds like classic bubblegum punk, complete with the obligatory references to Japanese culture, and you might think it was a wink-and-nod ironic gesture. But there’s a simplicity and naive charm to it that it never seems pretentious. The title track, “Sunshine Skyway”, is another great example of what Honeyrider is all about. With a quick-tempo, power pop beat, the song approaches the edges of the punk pop sound that SoCal has appropriated so deftly, but stops just short by sticking to its sweet melodies and ending in a swirl of organs and vocals, reminding the listener just how much pop the so-called punk bands have incorporated.
Unfortunately, it’s a trick that can only play out for so long. By the end of the disc, the incessant sunshine starts to seem a little bit overwhelming. With the dual combination of “Summer Love Affair” and “Summer Girl” leading to the closer, you might start to get a little twinge of sunburn. All the “bah-bah-bah” backing vocals can’t save this disc from seeming a little one-season-sided.
But for that, this is as classic a pop underground disc as has been released in the last few years. Chiming, bright, energetic, and, yes, sunny, Sunshine Skyway proves that Gary Strickland and company are still capable of producing clever and charming pure pop gems. And with gorgeous tunes like “Depths of Nowhere”, “Are You Clear?”, and “Drowning in Countryside”, it’s easy to forgive a few stickily sweet summer indulgences.