The Sunshine Fix – Age of the Sun

The Sunshine Fix
Age of the Sun

When the Beatles finally officially broke up in 1970, there may have been some folks who deluded themselves into thinking that this could possibly be a good thing, that instead of getting one Beatles album every year, we’d now get four solo Beatle albums. Ok, maybe Ringo’s wouldn’t be so great, but four Beatle albums every year! The ultimate optimist in denial would have been excused for hoping that such prodigiously gifted musicians could continue to create art at or near the same level of their previous standards, regardless of who was sitting next to them in the recording studio. And though Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and even Starr got out of the box with some enjoyable and occasionally brilliant early recordings, it’s safe to say that nothing that they produced as solo artists is going to make us forget the impact they had as a band. Similarly, when the dreaded “hiatus” word came up regarding the future collaborations of the Olivia Tremor Control, it’s probably safe to assume that few rock fans salivated at the opportunity of hearing Will Cullen Hart, Pete Erchick, Bill Doss, et al., reconfiguring their musical talents along different lines and reveling in the singularity of their separate muses. Nonetheless, Hart and most of the original Olivia’s Circulatory System delivered on one of 2001’s most realized efforts in their self-titled, Bill Doss-less debut. Erchick’s Pipes You See, Pipes You Don’t released the similarly excellent Individualized Shirts. Bill Doss’s Sunshine Fix? Strangely silent.
After 2000’s The Future History of a Sunshine Fix, a five-song EP that danced through Byrdsy country-fied psychedelia, heavy break-beats, and hazy pop, the stage was set for a full-length that at its best could rival the dizzying heights reached by OTC in their too few releases. But even though his water broke in 2000, Bill Doss’ extended gestation period for Age of the Sun seems to have been worth the wait. A sun-based song-cycle chocked full of all the trippy radiating fuzz that we’ve come to expect from him, Doss (now having taken to calling himself The Bill Doss), is still found jostling with Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes and Elliott Smith for title of the early 21st century (by way of 1968) pop music’s greatest tunesmith. With a Beatlesque bounce, multi-layered harmonies, and a dazzling mélange of textures and studio tricks, Doss is the rare songwriter who can fill in the missing spaces of 1960’s experimental rock.
Starting off with a jolt of psychedelic jangle pop with the title track, Doss leads his band of collaborators (including Japancakes’ Heather McIntosh on cello and Of Montreal/Summer Hymns’ Derek Almstead on bass and not a single holdover from his OTC days) through a set of songs that feel like a warm nap in the sun. Appropriately, the sun is evoked as much in sound as it is in lyric, with the positively luminous piano-driven “Digging to China” and the chugging marching band cum atmospheric pop of “That Ole Sun,” which feels like a half-cousin to George Harrison’s “Think For Yourself.” And while it’s generally somewhat hard to exactly pinpoint how Doss is fulfilling his promise to channel Curtis Mayfield instead of Brian Wilson, the occasional foray into dance-ish grooves with the shimmying “See Yourself” offers a nice contrast to the dreamy escapism that dominates the set.
Still, Doss is truly at his best within the realm of experimental pop, and the gorgeously anthemic chorus of “Everything is Waking” and the swelling intensity of “A Better Way to Be” rank among his best compositions to this point. The soft organ and Left Banke-ish hook of “Mr. Summer Day” adds to the impeccably constructed arrangement of warm and welcoming tones. As always, Doss is a master at maintaining continuity through musical motifs, connecting songs with short musical suites and never breaking from the theme of contemplating the sun. Putting a big bleached-out bow on that concept is the finale, “Le Roi-Soleil,” which happens to consist of three-part harmony holding one note multiplied three times and looped for 20 minutes. Nice idea, but after about two minutes of it, only the most devoted fan is not going to reach for the stop button.
Although few would have given you even money that the splintering of the Olivia Tremor Control would result in material every bit as strong as what we’ve come to expect from them, in this case anyway, it seems that we actually do end up with multiple releases that are nearly the equal of their collaborative efforts. Buy them all and make one brilliant mix tape or play them back to back as one gigantic Olivia Tremor Control album, this is one band whose “hiatus” actually benefits the hardcore fanatic. Feeling a little Vitamin D deficient? An injection from the Sunshine Fix might be just what the doctor ordered.