All Night Radio
Spirit Stereo Frequency
n 1972, John Barth unveiled his brilliant mythological reconstruction, Chimera. Filtered through a twisted modern mind and given an ingeniously ribald retelling, Barth enlivened the myths with a frankness and verve they rarely held for the contemporary reader on their own, stopping to focus on the telling instead of the tale. Sashaying these many years down the postmodern trail, All Night Radio have set their sights on recreating the flowered and feathered psychedelia of the era in which Barth himself did his best work, the sixties and seventies. Yet they could give a damn for the telling or the tale; it’s the music, stupid.
A duo comprised of Jimi Hey and Dave Scher, both sometimes-never-back again members of strung-out-on-sunbeams country-poppers Beachwood Sparks, All Night Radio’s debut, Spirit Stereo Frequency, splits open the gulf of the intervening years in an attempt to position itself in the charts of 1967. Jacked up on myriad assembly-line noises, mechanical tinkerings, and golden acoustic guitar strumming, they manage their melodies with a deftness that keeps them loose and limber in the quiet assault of the underlying density. With the help of their soothing choruses, the album is a pleasant enough sidetrack, but unlike Barth’s recreation, it seems more homage than advancement. The divergence is in the hearty appeal of its historical revisionism, while it never smudges its thumbprints on the dated blueprints of the original material. Instead, it’s an auditory plea to please take this pill three times over and hail music for music’s sake again. Or, as Barth would have it, “The key to the treasure is the treasure.”
“Fall Down 7” thumps with a funky Steve Miller-style guitar-shuffle. With its waltzing piano intro, the cowbell works over-time to rein in the myriad hisses, whirs, and reverberating noises. As Magic Mystery horns blurt in the static beneath the arena-rocking chorus of “Hey’s,” a saxophone is pulled so tight it begins to sound clean and narrow like a guitar. This confusing sense of time-morphed instrumentation and studio-buggering stands up after several listens and deepens the album’s appeal.
Slowly rambling along, “Sky Bicycle (You’ve Been Ringing)” seems content to watch dawn approach through a forest of aspens. Hand-in-hand (sorry for the cheeky 60s metaphor) with its AM Gold guitar part and shuffling drums, a vaporous ringing keeps the tone gleeful enough for the wait. There, just above the horizon! I’ll be damned if that isn’t the sound of the Jetsons’ spacecar!
“Winter Light” darkens the atmosphere a bit next to its sunblind brethren. The watery guitar and cracked sound effects drift with the vocals like they’re mired in glue. The viscous fluidity rides the moaning seas of the chopped drum-beat, and the entire song seems to bob and weave through the speakers. It reminds me of the best tracks from the most recent Mountaineers’ album.
As the album closes with the twinkling psycho-twitchery of the title track, I’m reminded that revisionist history can set out to accomplish many different things. The academic reworkings of post-modernists like Barth aren’t always as necessary in pop music, where the joys and degradations of appreciation are set on a simpler track. Often, and as a critic I’m guiltier than most, we wind up pigeonholing music based upon a perceived need for evolution and lose track of the simple grace that had us loving “I Saw Her Standing There” when we thought it was by Tiffany and didn’t know the Beatles (was it just me?). On Spirit Stereo Frequency, All Night Radio serve up an escapist’s reminder that spring is fast approaching, and we always need music for open windows, top-down convertibles and misty drives on roads rivered with melted snow.