So far, this year – to put it bluntly – has been weird. You don’t need me to tell you how weird, you know what’s been happening. Either that or you’ve been living in a cave for the past nine months in which case hi how are you and have I got news for you…
Anyway, this year. I’ve not been listening to much new music this year. Lockdown hasn’t been conducive with music for me. I think subconsciously I didn’t want music to be associated with what was happening. The exception to this rule at the start of lockdown was “Head Sounds” by Super 8, an album of homespun jangle pop from the heart and soul of Paul Ryan aka Trip. Somehow his gentle version of “Across the universe” became a totem of normality under the strangest of circumstances. “Nothing’s gonna change my world” indeed.
Now a few months on from that release and Super 8 have another album on the blocks, this time a collaboration between Trip and Lisa Mychols, a California native who has been creating sun drenched power pop for nearly two decades. The musical marriage of Trip and Ellie (as Lisa is known to her friends) is made in pop heaven.
The music has a ramshackle charm all of its own, and the mix of Trip’s casually brilliant musicianship and Lisa’s spot on harmonies and both their songwriting skills merge perfectly – it’s as if the Free Design had a collaboration with Emitt Rhodes (RIP) Sun baked California soft pop with a Beatles-ish lilt. Perfect.
The album kicks off with two theme songs – “What will be?” will be familiar if you’ve listened to Beth’s Indie Lounge while “Trip and Ellie’s Music Factory” has the feel of a children’s TV show theme tune (this is in no way a criticism, think of a theme song from a kid’s show in your childhood, see how well you remember it…) I could be wrong but it may have a homage to “Fakin’ it” too 😎 “Timebomb” – their initial collaboration from last year – is a groovy rocker, somewhere between “Bohemian like you” and “Rocks” but with plenty of charm alongside its bite. “You and me, me and you” is sweet as candy and instantly catchy too, as is “Honey bee” (love the reference to a cherry red Gibson 335 – my dream guitar).
There are two covers on the album which fit perfectly into the flow. “Peaceful” by Kenny Rankin is a long time favourite song of mine and I’ve yet to find a bad version of the song (I can recommend Bobbie Gentry’s version alongside the original). Trip and Ellie make it their own, building from acoustic guitar to a full on arrangement and back again, a lovely performance. “Witchi Tai To” is beautiful too – highlighting Lisa’s vocal skills, and is a match for the gorgeous version by Harper’s Bizarre. These covers are respectful and show their influences on the music. The West Coast soft pop vibes continue through the latter half of the album with “Laguna nights to remember” and the dreamy “Your summer theme”.
The two highlights of the album are what would have been the side closers if there was a vinyl equivalent – “Flying close to the sun” and “The arms of water”. Both songs extend the sunshine pop into a more psychedelic experience – the songs are expansive and take swerves in odd directions and Trip throws in some sound effects, field recordings and backwards guitars. These songs highlight how perfectly Trip and Lisa work together – you’d never guess they created this music thousands of miles apart. The album is full of sunshine and the perfect music for slowly emerging from lockdown, hanging out with friends you’ve not seen for ages and chilling out. Put your worries behind you, relax and let Trip and Ellie soundtrack this weird summer.
The Super 8 and Lisa Mychols album is available now via Wally Salem’s fantastic label The Beautiful Music.
Wally has impeccable taste – witness his ongoing project of Television Personalities covers – and TBM has issued great albums by Dot Dash, Armstrong, The Irony Board, Skytone, The Yellow Melodies and many more. Wally was kind enough to send me an advance copy of a forthcoming album his label will be releasing in August, thinking I would enjoy it and he was right, I loved it.
I must admit I’ve not come across Exploding Flowers before (and a quick Google tells me about the photographic process to explode a flower) but it seems the members of this four piece band have been around the LA underground scene for many years. All this experience shows in the music on “Stumbling Blocks”. If Trip and Ellie’s album is the sound of two musicians bonding over a long distance internet connection, Exploding Flowers is the sound of four musicians playing together in a room as a band. That might be quite an old fashioned idea in the 21st century but it does create some timeless music.
Exploding Flowers tip their collective hats towards some intriguing music. Sure, the twelve strings chime like the Byrds in flight as you would expect but there’s a plainly chorded organ harking back to the Chills and numerous US 60s garage bands or even the early sides by the Sea Urchins (think “Sullen eyes”). There’s hints of psychedelia too and not just the 60s variety – some songs here could easily fit onto the renowned New Psychedelic compilation “A splash of colour” and there’s a Paisley Underground vibe as well. Third hand psych? Not at all. The sound is fresh and vivid, and the songs are superb too. Highlights include the rollicking title track – that insistent guitar lick drives into your head and sticks there – and the perfect pop of “Far but never gone” (some cool backing vocals on this) and “Billions just like you here today”. There’s almost a ska feel to some of the organ parts on these songs, filtered through a New Wave sensibility.
As great as the uptempo songs are, my favourite songs here are when the band slow down a little and stretch out on midtempo songs. “Timing is everything” is 100 seconds of bliss, leading into my two album highlights. “Imagine all the possibilities” is a minor key gem, 12 strings chiming, descending chords and some beautiful unexpected melodic swerves. You would hardly notice the lyric sung so sweetly is a political diatribe worthy of Stereolab. The following song “Amongst burnt out stars” is just as good, descending arpeggios of guitars in the verse leading into a forceful verse, with more melodic swerves (regular readers will know I love a good melodic swerve). Towards the end of the album “Mirror to mirror, face to face” makes the most of its two chords and stretches out with a sax solo at the end, while “Are we so disposable?” is a melancholic closer, built on tympani drums and toy piano – not so much a Wall Of Sound as a Partition Of Sound. Basically if you cherish albums by the Barracudas, the Liquor Giants and Diableros then this album will fit nicely in your collection. The music will draw you in and the lyrics will intrigue you and you will sing these songs all summer.
Both the Super 8 and Lisa Mychols and Exploding Flowers albums have different takes on how to soundtrack these strange times with jangling guitars and melodies and thought provoking words. Both albums will repay repeated listens with great rewards and are well worth your time. Give them a chance to soundtrack your endless summer.
Both albums are available at www.thebeautifulmusic.com and Wally will probably throw in some other goodies for you if you order through him. Tell him a goldfish sent you 😎