When I first heard Beach Day’s 2013 debut, Trip Trap Attack, I had to immediately invite Kimmy Drake, the group’s principal songwriter, lead singer, guitarist, and keyboardist, to appear on an online radio show I co-host called Dave White Presents. As I was hooked on the trio’s infectious blend of ’60s girl group harmonies, their Ventures-style surf guitar licks, and the wall of sound production in the mold of Phil Spector, I was curious to know why these twentysomething Floridians wanted to emulate the music of an era their grandparents grew up on.
I should have known the answer would be short and sweet. They simply like the old sounds. Could there be a better reason than that?
Now, Beach Day has released Native Echoes, and things have changed. For one matter, they’re now a duo, unless you count the guiding hand of producer Jim Diamond (the Sonics, the Dirtbombs, the White Stripes) who had also helmed the Trip Trap Attack sessions in his Detroit studios. Skyler Black still commands the drum throne, but Beach Day is pretty much Drake’s vocal and guitar show. This time around there’s more overt touches of garage rock with a grittier edge throughout the very short program. (There are only 10 songs clocking in at 33:55.) While there’s still an overall feel of young innocence and fun in the sun melodies, Drake’s lyrics are now more Jagger/Richards than Brian Wilson.
In fact, were Native Echoes the soundtrack for one of those ’60s beach party movies, the opening scenes might show Frankie and Annette looking around with dropped jaws and wide-open eyes as they see strange, long-haired people smoking funny cigarettes, talking poetry, and seemingly a bit too jaded to be mooning over young love like the good old days. The first song, after all, is Beach Day declaring, sounding a bit like Blondie in full new wave drive, “All My Friends Were Punks.” Frankie and Annette would have to walk away from this clambake, staring sadly at a scene they could no longer recognize.
Well, Annette might have felt better hearing the familiar story of the hand-clapping “Don’t Call Me On The Phone,” a song she might have sung herself with the help of Diamond’s echoing vocal mix. Speaking of that echo sound, it’s melded with feedback guitar on “BFF’s” where Drake addresses the most recurring theme of the album, the variety of her friendships. In this case, she is pushing away one of those friends she doesn’t want to see anymore.
Then, “I’m Just Messin’ Around” is just that, foot-stompin’ punk. I can now hear Frankie begging, can we get back to the beach? Sure. The instrumental “Gnarly Waves” blends simple surf-guitar pickin’ with ocean sounds recorded in the middle of the night at Drake’s hometown Hollywood Beach.
It’s time for the mid-’60s with “Pretty,” a fuzz and feedback freak-out with very non-girl group lyrics. Drake is defiant as she declares “Who cares about being pretty?” Then she describes another friend whose words don’t matter in “Fades Away,” a song featuring the Hammond organ sound reminiscent of Every Mother’s Son and ? and the Mysterians.
How about a love song and a bit of romance? Nope. Instead, Drake strikes a somber note with “Lost Girl” about a sad friend with empty hands. As the closing credits roll in this imaginary movie, “How Do You Sleep at Night” ties everything together. Pointing an accusatory finger at someone who is not the person he should be, Drake’s vocals are almost buried in a mix of crashing surf sounds and moody folk rock 12-string chords. Yep, times have changed.
In short, one thing Native Echoes demonstrates is that Beach Day can still evoke the spirit and flavor of their inspirations, but Kimmy Drake is becoming a much more distinctive songwriter. True, not all the tracks are nuggets and some are less than memorable, especially after the promising first three numbers. Still, Drake, Black, and Diamond have opened up the instrumentation and arrangements that result in a much more original sound lead by a power pop diva who’s not singing about boys or stuffing wild bikinis. It’s their beach now, and I’m curious about the next echo sure to come after this transitional offering.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00LN878YE]