Okay, first things first: I'm pretty sure that the idea of a group of Dubliners singing songs about living in Southern California is more than a bit removed from Writing What You Know - even if that So Cal is the much-traveled myth-land of Neil Young and the Brother era Beach Boys (circa Holland, especially).
But although wispy singer/songwriter Conor Deasey comes across more Van Dyke Parks than Dennis (the beach bro who actually surfed) Wilson, he and his band the Thrills have still concocted a splendorous pop disc with their debut, So Much for the City (Virgin). Over an Americana-drenched pop-rock sound that finds room for plenty o' harmony, Dylan-y harmonica, banjos and the bass-line from "Build Me Up, Buttercup," Deasey sings his songs of lost hopes and regret with an appealing Nils Lofgren whine. If his minimalist lyrics hint at more than they deliver ("Hollywood Kids," for instance, doesn't tell us anything that Steely Dan didn't do better on Countdown to Ecstasy), the tone is so gossamer lovely that I'm not gonna grouse. Or perhaps I'm just impressed by a songwriter capable of quoting both "The Monkees Theme" and Harry Nilsson's "Moonbeam Song."
Highlights of this 2003 release include the cautionary "Big Sur" (not the "California Saga" track from the Beach Boys), with its blend of banjo (courtesy of Daniel Ryan) & organ (Kevin Horan), plus a proto-theremin flourish; "Old Friends, New Loves," which has a swirling string section reminiscent of a John Barry 007 movie theme; the strumming Schmillsony "Deckchairs And Cigarettes;" plus "Your Love Is Like Las Vegas," which contains the neatly bitter line: "Your love is like a city that burnt me good." I've also grown attached to the throbbing bass opener to "Hollywood Kids" and the swelling harmonies of album opener of "Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)." Swell stuff for those who prefer their melancholy with a beat and some barbershop harmony.
Authentic Dublin beach party music? Ah, who cares? "If this sounds phony," Deasey teases at one point, "Don't say that I didn't warn." Fair enough. I'm ready to dance "'til the tide creeps in."