Gifted multi-instrumentalists, twisted songwriters, musical alchemists: Dave Scher and Jimi Hey are the sound of New Los Angeles, a fifth dimensional burg where, legend has it, Brian Wilson is Mayor (Van Dyke Parks is his personal assistant), Arthur Lee is the chief of police (Forever Changes serves as the department’s official in-house elevator Muzak) and it rarely, if ever, rains (some things about L.A. never change no matter what dimension you’re in). Scher and Hey were key members of Beachwood Sparks, but where the Sparks specialized in blissed-out cowboy twang, All Night Radio is less Americana, more psychedelia.
The name All Night Radio, in fact, is slightly deceptive; some may expect a shadowy, nocturnal scene when in fact this is some of the sunniest music to surface in ages. Scher’s vocals have retained their Beachwood Sparks floaty quality, although rather than channel ethereality Scher and Hey precisely layer their harmonies along the lines of an old doo-wop or a cappella group, hence the sunshiny vibe. The album does come at you as if from a dream, however. Similar to the Flaming Lips’ recent sensory experiments or the Beta Band’s stylistic multitasking, Spirit Stereo Frequency is at times kitchen-sink random — a backward passage here, a horn section flourish there, an audible video game sample, the welling up of a guitar solo that abruptly dissipates and fades out. And with most of the songs so elaborately constructed, this couldn’t be characterized as an easy listen; “We’re On Our Wave,” for example, is miasmic, woozy and dense, like “Strawberry Fields Forever” improbably recast for Pet Sounds with Phil Spector producing. Maybe the name All Night Radio isn’t all that misleading. Like twirling up and down the AM radio dial back in the ’60s and early ’70s, Spirit Stereo Frequency yields its pleasures in bursts and unlikely segues. Straight through the looking glass, Scher and Hey go. Tell Brian and Arthur we said hello while you’re there, lads.
E-mail Fred Mills at [email protected].