Singer-songwriter Zachary Gresham is the centerpiece of the otherwise fluctuating band Summer Hymns. A more informative moniker, however, might be Sparklepony. Gresham’s voice is a dead ringer for Mark Linkous, and he fills his songs with the musical whizzes and whirs that can be found all through Sparklehorse’s work. Backward Masks is a quality assortment of lo-fi tunes that should appeal to those (me included) who found Sparklehorse’s Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain too glossy.
Gresham comes across as an overall nice guy. He starts off the album, on “Way You Walk,” by telling a girl, over a gentle pitter patter of drums, that he likes her strut. The lyrics are more sweet than sexual. The same goes for “Pheromones Induced,” which isn’t near as sticky-icky as its title might suggest. It’s also the fullest and near bombast the album gets, with ringing guitars reminiscent of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air.”
Gresham often proves to be deft with wordplay. On “Pity and Envy,” he moans, “I was watching MTV/Mixed with pity and envy/Baseball sucks and so does life.” Must be a Cubs fan. On the already oddly named “Bombay Brown India Ink,” Gresham pitches more non sequiturs: “I don’t want Clint Eastwood in my life starring as the devil” and “Like a monkey you’ll wait on evolution to come on your little head.” Elsewhere Gresham sports a more positive outlook. “Start Swimming” uses plunging in the water as a metaphor for engaging in life. And “Fearanoia” is Gresham telling himself to not be afraid of life and love.
At the album’s midway point, “Limousine” is a nice palate-cleansing oddball instrumental. It calls to mind Pavement’s “5-4=Unity” or something Mike Andrews might do. And “When the Bombs Fall” is a perfect little anticlimax of a finale, a tender, stand-by-me-if-the-world-ends ballad.
Gresham might not have the wildcard mad creative genius of Linkous, even singing “I’m trying not to go insane” on “New Way.” But in this case, a little mental clarity goes a long way toward creating nicely crafted tunes.