By Melissa Fossum
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By New Times
By Amanda Savage
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Spread out the blanket, hoist the umbrella, slather on the SPF 50, sip a beer pulled from the cooler, and gaze at the pelicans dive-bombing the breaking surf. Oh, and try not to get any sand in your suit as you doze off under the sun.
Sorry, you're a 'Zonie — and at least four hours from a coastline — so that scenario may be just a dream for you.
The closest you may get to an escape to the waterfront is in the music of Beach House and a crop of other bands that have used the ocean and the beach for inspiration in 2010. It's only April, but already the list is long: The Morning Benders, Surfer Blood, She & Him, Shearwater, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, and even Gorillaz, whose titular Plastic Beach is anything but paradise but not without hope and the possibility for redemption.
The ocean represents infinite possibilities, and the beach calls to mind carefree times and innocent pleasures. Just what the doctor ordered for a nation tearing its hair out during a protracted recession: optimism, escapism, hope.
It's hardly a coincidence that the 2010 releases by these bands were recorded mostly in the wake of President Obama's January 2009 inauguration. That's when the sun rose over an artistically darkened horizon to shine on our politically splintered nation's indie-music community — and it shows in the sounds coming from these bands.
Nowhere is it more evident than in Beach House's languid and hazy dream pop. On its Teen Dream record, the Baltimore duo taps into the same beautiful, wide-eyed melancholy that suffuses Brian Wilson's work on The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. Water is everywhere on Teen Dream: abundant cymbal washes sound like crashing waves, a phaser effect gives the guitars a watery sound, lyrics refer to swimming in lakes, running on sand, and "staying inside all summer / see what happens to the other." It's pure escapism from a band named after a quintessential summer hideway.
Bands such as The Morning Benders and Surfer Blood turn up the volume and tempos a notch higher than Beach House as they jump headfirst into summer. Surfer Blood is from the coastal Florida town of West Palm Beach, but the sound is pure California pop with a heavily reverbed surf-guitar sound — perhaps the "lucid afternoon dream" they recall in their hit "Swim (To Reach the End)." On "Floating Vibes," they sing "The tide will break in on itself / There are no ghosts to exhume or unearth," as if, like much of the nation in a post-Bush era, they're working with a clean slate from this point forward.
Berkeley, California's Morning Benders tell you where their collective head's at with one look at the cover of their latest record, The Big Echo. The oil painting depicts dozens of beachgoers frolicking on the sand and in the huge waves. On the song "All Day Daylight," The Morning Benders seem to grasp the enormity of a new era: "And somewhere someone sails the ocean / Somewhere someone's telling the seas / Somewhere someone's calling out my name."
Innocence abounds on the new record by She & Him, a sunny collection of pop songs by the too-cute actress and Southern California girl Zooey Deschanel. The throwback melodies and arrangements recall the simpler early '60s, when John F. Kennedy carried the torch for a national optimism and sense of hope. Deschanel herself has said that the songs she wrote with musician/producer M. Ward are inspired by her drives along the beautiful California coastline.
Elsewhere, the Texas indie band Shearwater named its band after a seabird, and its latest record is nautically and environmentally themed The Golden Archipelago. The album cover of the latest record by the Australian band Eddy Current Suppression Ring shows the band's four members standing shin-high in the Pacific Ocean. And the record, after 30 minutes of jagged, mostly uptempo art-punk, closes with a soothingly hypnotic 20-minute field recording of seabirds and water lightly lapping against the shoreline. Yeah, sounds you'd hear spending an afternoon on the porch of a beach house. Fittingly, as if describing our zeal for escapism in hopeful yet fitful times, the record is called Rush to Relax.