Checking the notes on the press release for Californian Psych/Surf flunks Allah-Las new album Zuma 85, it seems “instead of bringing finished songs to the studio, they entered the picturesque Panoramic House recording in Stinson Beach with sketches, ideas, and riffs”. I mean, on the surface, that sounds bloody lovely. The only downside of their casual approach to the creative process is it seems to have yielded some variable results.
The vibe over the 48-minute running time flits around various Rock, Psychedelic and DreamPop touchpoints. Loose, extended jam sessions turned into soundalikes from Relics era Pink Floyd as on Fontaine, via weird Creedence rip-offs like Sky Club and even some Modern Lovers nonsense with Jelly – “Jellyfish are really cool fishes”. Dude, where’s my originality?
When they’re actually focused on being themselves, things hit the uptick very nicely. Right On Time is a lovely slice of bouncy, sunshine drenched swagger, perfect for a day’s rollerblading down the Playa and La Rue shows that these beach bums can do the clever stuff too, yummy harmonies and a wiggly guitar line elbowing out Spencer Dunham’s stoned vocal.
The band’s take on this album mentions the dismay of listening to the same old generic rock station on FM radio, but that analogy seems to be an able descriptor for this album – for better and for worse. The dial keeps shifting from Allah-Las familiar influences to new patches of material that sounds prototypical rather than pilfered. What they need to do now is to make sure the needle keeps moving forwards to a place where they can find their definitive sound.
Zuma 85 mostly mooches around in the background like a cosy housemate in a bucket hat but does occasionally snap its fingers at you when you’re zoned out on tequila and Bajan Cod tacos. Man – it totally makes you want to live in California.