Music works in mysterious ways, as do most other things in life. It’s funny how a song, or in this particular case, an album can evoke memories of a specific time and place that actually happened before the music even existed. I bought this album in the summer of 2001 and for some unexplainable reason it reminded me of a trip I had taken to Cocoa Beach, Florida with my then-wife the summer prior. Not only did it remind me of the trip but it actually felt like I had been listening to the album during the trip. The album hadn’t been recorded yet, though, so how is that possible? Who knows – again, just the power of music to recall memories from our past. The funny thing is, every time I listen to this album, I can still vividly recall that summer vacation as if I was still there – the hot, steamy weather, the ocean, the beach.
The reason why I fell in love with this album has nothing to with memories though. It has to do with the music itself, and simply put, this might be the best pure-pop album since the first Marshall Crenshaw platter, 19 years prior.
Allen Clapp, the mastermind behind The Orange Peels, possesses Crenshaw’s knack for writing sweet, innocent, catchy pop tunes reflecting matters of the heart – mainly the subject of awkward, unrequited love, and failed romance. Clapp sings in a voice that’s even more innocent and pure than Marshall once did. He sings for every teenage boy that was ever too afraid to walk up to a girl and ask her out, knowing that, at that age, there is no worse feeling than being rejected. The last singer to actually convey this feeling to such an amazing degree was The Hello Strangers leader, Michael “Spike” Priggen on the song “Anna Karina,” from 1987’s unjustly-obscure Goodbye.
This is another one of those albums where every song is a winner, and so, therefore, it’s better to experience it as a whole, rather than singling out individual tracks, as they are all of a piece. The band produce all sorts of interesting guitar tones, throughout the album, that make every song a bright and shining, diamond-cut gem. Album-opener “Back in San Francisco” sets the tone, and it’s probably the best song of a very high-quality bunch. Like the remainder of the songs, it’s a power pop number that manages to be wistful without being twee. It evokes 1960s Beatlesque pop, as well as the sounds of early-‘70s AM radio. Other great songs on this album include “Girl for All Seasons,” “Mystery Lawn” and “West Coast Rain,” but they are all equally great.
The band also throws in surf music influences (such as the early Beach Boys, and the guitar work of Dick Dale) without ever being beholden to that genre. They take all of their influences, though, and make them sound brand new. It’s not that they are doing anything original – they just manage to do it extremely well. Many power pop songs tend to sound the same after awhile, succumbing to the same tired formulas, but when someone knows exactly what to do with those clichés, and can make something new out of them, the results can be wonderful. Allan Clapp is one of those guys. And he proves it here in song after song.