Marshmallow Coast – Ride the Lightning

Marshmallow Coast
Ride the Lightning

It doesn’t take a rock historian to realize that side projects are generally poorly realized efforts. Leaving the safety of a group dynamic to fully indulge every hunch, feeling, and half-developed idea that your bandmates would never let you act on is akin to giving a driver’s license and a full tank of gas to a 12-year-old. The rock canon is littered by misguided solo efforts by the likes of Keith Moon, Paul Leary, Dave Navarro, Mick Jagger, and those four utterly forgettable matching solo albums from the KISS clan. In short, it’s not a good track record. Still, charging headlong into the solo project conundrum is Of Montreal’s Andy Gonzalez and his Marshmallow Coast. Now with Of Montreal bassist and general sound specialist Derek Almstead listed as the second official band member, the Coast is back with another set of vaguely throwback psychedelic pop.
As the ties between the Marshmallow Coast and Of Montreal have never been particularly hard to identify, both in sound and membership (all members of Of Montreal make appearances except Kevin Barnes), with Gonzalez displaying a penchant for melody only slightly less flamboyant than that of Mr. Barnes himself, a certain uneasy silliness similar to the best work of Of Montreal colors the finest of Gonzalez’s songwriting. And he certainly has his moments where he appears to be a talent on par with the best of the Elephant 6’ers during moments like the lushly bouncy piano of “Jebodiah’s Restraints” and the wistfully swaying acoustic guitar and ominous theremin of “Haunted Blvds.” Derek Almstead’s swanky bass anchors the attack throughout, with rather goofy songs about reading the newspaper (“Classifieds”) mixed with paeans to unattainable beauties (“Darkside of the Moon”) throughout the albums 14 tracks.
Also similar to Barnes, Gonzalez writes songs with a certain naïvely romantic awkwardness, with the words of songs like “Guitar Suite for Little Debbie,” (which features some downright gorgeous acoustic guitar work), reading like subtitles from a French film. As his vocals have a certain wavering quality somewhere between former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman and Kinks mastermind Ray Davies, Gonzalez still manages to craft somewhat indecisive melodies using a bevy of unexpected melodic turns and surprise passages reminiscent of classic Brazilian popsters like Os Mutantes. The twee-ish bossa nova bounce of “Oblivion” is a fine example of that willfully obscure aesthetic. Still, the sing-songy cutesiness of tracks like “Dee Et Moi” could almost be slipped into an Of Montreal set list without anyone taking notice.
So, even if the Marshmallow Coast is more Their Satanic Majesties Request than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Gonzalez is a songwriter deserving of his own spot in the Elephant 6 universe. Like many of the best artists working in his genre, his songs’ allure grows stronger with each passing listen, as their quirks become more easily recognizable and the subtleties of his slightly obscure muse come into better focus. Even if it is only an appetizer for the expected main course of the next Of Montreal release, Andy Gonzalez and company have made an album that snaps, crackles, and pops with the pure love of the process and never sounds even slightly like a self-indulgent solo album.