Remember the way (and a lot of you may not be old enough, so just bear with this exposition and take from it what you can) late-’70s/early-’80s pop culture was still saturated with that post-psychedelic-era sound? Saturday morning cartoon theme songs, commercials, TV theme songs — they were all saturated with that far-out, soupy, spacey delay and echo. This was largely, I think, the work of the Prime Time delay unit, a nifty thing that gave quick, clear delay cuts to voices or instruments so it would actually sound like the tail end of the phrase was splintering off and zooming away into outer space.
That’s the same sound of All Night Radio’s Spirit Stereo Frequency. The album has the charm of sounding dated, but in the right way; it’s not so much after the fact as it is an embrace of technologies past. All Night Radio has brought that sound back with a splendid collection of songwriting that wafts and strolls through futuristic gardens and secret, good-natured radio stations.
I put this on in the car the first day I received it. Opener “Daylight Till Dawn” made me think about the first time I heard the Moody Blues on the radio, some twenty or so years after they were current of course, but not without impact to this young psychedelican. The song’s orchestration comes complete with harpsichord; strings; pedal steel; timpani-ish vocal transitions; and lushed-out, roomy, Phil Spector-like drums. All of this combines to result in a late-’60s/early-’70s structure more comparable to the Moody Blues or Pink Floyd than any other contemporary band deserves.
Spirit Stereo continues with the loose, peaceful, Beatle-esque (yes, yes, I also dislike that adjective; however, here it is truly appropriate) “We’re On Our Wave.” This general THC wash sweeps the listener through the rest of the album, hitting really high (no pun intended, really) points on “Fall Down 7” and “You’ll Be On Your Own.” The latter has a killer guitar riff opening and running through it, accented still by the ridiculously lush vocals that seem to fly in and out of dimensions of sound normally hidden from our perception. “Sky Bicycle (You’ve Been Ringing)” moves back into that lighthearted, kids’ show theme again, sounding like ’70s-era kids’ records about the alphabet, with spoken call-and-response vocals and light, lackadaisical rhythms.
I could go on naming every song. This is an engaging and unique album in modern music, and will probably appeal to anyone interested in studio production techniques or the art of sonic effects or who was raised on classic-rock icons or modern groups such as Stereolab, where the craft of the record has as much to do with the sound of the record as it does the songwriting.