The official press release for “Sun Moon,” the new album by veteran Bay Area band the Orange Peels, says that the quartet “finds itself navigating the confluence of post rock, indiepop, space rock, nouveau psychedelia, and prog rock, with melody as its only compass.” And then it adds, cheekily, “That’s probably what some critic will say anyway.” Our critic, Steve Hochman, says that’s about right. Here’s his review.
For a genre that pretty much owes its existence to the most inventive, most chance-taking, most unorthodox of popular music icons - perhaps you’ve heard of the Beatles - the style known as power-pop has by and large been locked, frustratingly, into orthodoxy. For decades, the realm has produced a parade of acts seeming to have the goal of sounding like their heroes, rather than being as creative, distinctive and individualistic as the heroes.
So when any nominally power-pop band shows even the slightest sense of invention, it can seem, well, heroic. Maybe it’s brash that the Orange Peels titled one of the songs from its new “Sun Moon” album “Your New Heroes.” Maybe it’s tongue-in-cheek. Maybe it’s commentary on slavish hero worship. Whatever the intent, it’s one of the clear examples that on “Sun Moon” there’s more than the slightest sense of invention. Each song, at the very least, brings new ideas and idiosyncratic twists to old forms, the kind of things that made such acts as Big Star, Squeeze and Crowded House their own name brands within the larger form. At its best, as on the ‘70s-referencing “Bicentennial Bridge,” “Sun Moon” holds the kind of playful, experimental spirit that marked one of power pop’s most individualistic figures, Todd Rundgren.
The trick with “Sun Moon” is that after more than 15 years and four albums of enticingly formalist -- though not formulaic -- variations on familiar styles, the Orange Peels took some new approaches. In the past, singer and primary songwriter Allen Clapp came in with material largely written and ready to go. But with other projects occupying him, co-founding bassist Jill Pries convened the band for collective writing and recording sessions marked by a sense of freedom.
Some other changes also stimulated creativity, as John Moremen, who had bounced between drums and guitar in the past, concentrated on the latter role and new drummer Gabriel Coan introduced ideas and aesthetics from his experience with experimental electronics.
The song “Grey Holiday” plays it pretty straight with 1960s soft-haze sounds. But the next song, “Aether Tide” pushes it with a glorious arrangement that could be a psychedelicized version of current folk-pop stars the Lumineers. And if the somber mid-album medley “Traveling West/Sundowns” seems an inevitable, almost obligatory Brian Wilson nod, the sunny-skies closer “Yonder” transcends its inspirations. With an extended instrumental coda, in come synthetic strings and a rhythmic looseness recalling, a little, the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” by that group, oh, what were they called? But it’s about creativity, not copying.
Heroic? Not really. But on “Sun Moon” the Orange Peels make music both tart and colorful enough to match the band’s name -- and to fulfill the true spirit of power-pop, not just the sound.
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