Does this debut album resurrect California rock?
Treetop Flyers is a group of five young Englishmen dedicated to bringing back the ’60s and ’70s-era California sound. They seem to have numerous influences including America, the Doobie Brothers, the Eagles, the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Although The Mountain Moves was recorded in Malibu, both Los Angeles and San Francisco retro sounds are represented in this 47-minute-plus collection of songs.
“Things Will Change” kicks off the album and it sounds like a lost track from America. Unfortunately, a muddled vocal makes the lyrics virtually unintelligible (there are no lyric sheets within the CD) and this destroys the weight of the song. The next song, “Houses Are Burning,” sounds like a track off of the Eagles’ On the Border album, but its all-chorus nature turns it into something lightweight.
“Waiting On You” is not a cover of the Dave Mason song and its lyrics can be understood! It’s got a very mid-to-late ’60s sound which is not highly praiseworthy. “Rose is in the Yard” sounds like a slow Janis Joplin/Big Brother song. It is not bad, but the presentation is underwhelming.
“She’s Gotta Run” is all Doobies, but it’s also all tension and no release. “Haunted House” is interesting in terms of the partially understandable lyrics. (When you listen to a song like the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” you do not need to struggle to understand the words.) But the overly long resolution of the song turns this into a poor man’s version of the Eagles.
And then there’s “Postcards,” which is a surprise simply because it is one great song. This is clearly the best song because it sounds original and not derivative. “If I had a postcard/Would I send it?/If I had the world/Could I mend it?/’Cause you’re on my mind…” Drummer Tomer Danan does his best work here and the members of the band also sound like they’re finally having fun. “Postcards” is fittingly topped off with a Lennon-like scream at the fade.
Back in the day, FM disc jockeys would have discovered “Postcards” and played it to death. I’ve listened to it repeatedly; it’s a song that stays on the mind.
“Making Time” does only that and by this time it’s become somewhat of a chore to listen to the album. “Picture Show” is a track where there’s no there there, and it’s followed by “Storm Will Pass.” Meh. The listener may find himself asking “Is It All Worth It (In the End)” which just happens to be the title of the final track (without a question mark) on Mountain. It’s a unique acoustic track that’s more promising than all the other tracks except for “Postcards.” And the band members sound English here. Note the Beatles-style lyrics, “…trust is love and love is trust.”
Treetop Flyers is a band with talent but there are issues with the execution of their music. As already mentioned, most of the lyrics cannot be understood. They have multiple lead vocalists, all of whom have relatively weak singing voices. (There are remedies that can be applied in the studio.) There’s also a plodding feel about their music, especially because the bass work and the drumming is pedestrian.
Although the band seems to have perfected the means of adding tension to their music, often relying on the “train rolling down the track” sound (think Doobie Brothers and the Eagles), they’ve yet to learn that tension must be released on a timely basis. Otherwise the music becomes tiring to listen to. (All tension and no release = drudgery for the ears.)
And so this is an album of unrealized promise. These Englishmen may love the classic California sound, but they won’t actually approximate it until they’re willing to take some risks, both in terms of playing their instruments and in recording techniques. It would be a plus if they would loosen up a bit in their next effort. It might be worthwhile for them to listen to some recordings by The Youngbloods to see how musicians can have fun in the studio!
Perhaps on their follow-up album the Treetop Flyers will deliver 11 or 12 songs with the sparkling quality of “Postcards.” That would be worth the wait.