The Cusacks – More Songs from Vagabondia

The Cusacks
More Songs from Vagabondia

Being a totally sold-out, card carrying member of the Elephant 6 army, I still haven’t been able to avoid the inescapable conclusion that most everything that my prolific psychedelic pop heroes have produced has already been done to some extent over 30 years ago by bands like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Zombies. Thankfully, bands like Of Montreal, the Olivia Tremor Control, and the Apples in Stereo have been creative enough to add their own distinctive musical (and often philosophical) ideologies to the sounds of the forbearers, but it’s still a bit troubling to realize just how derivative their output has been. Still, for the most part, the best of their admittedly strong output can be seen as the logical extension of the music made in the 1960’s, and not simply a regurgitation of the past. This, I’m afraid, is the main difference between the music they make and the music of the Cusacks.
At first glance, the chiming electric guitars, soaring multi-part vocals, humming keyboards, and unshakable melodies would seem to nominate this Ohio threesome as likely candidates to move to Athens and join the retro-guitar pop canon. But the key difference between their output and that of E6er’s is subtle but very important: the Cusacks aren’t trying to add anything to the sounds from which they draw. Much like the band dreamed up by Tom Hanks in That Thing You Do, the Cusacks sound like they literally walked out of a background shot of Help!. And much like every bandwagon jumping British Invasion group that hopped the first ship to the States, complete with manicured mop tops and Rickenbacker guitars, everything here sounds totally pre-calculated to fit through the hole blown open by the hysteria of the Beatles. What’s even more amazing than their outright replication of that era is just how good it all sounds.
The opening piano progression of “Over the Fields of Vagabondia” might come perilously close of copying the one found in John Lennon’s “Isolation,” but that hardly makes it any less enjoyable as obvious knock-off ear candy. Further, the horns and keyboards of the sing-songy “Word on the Street” seems to be loosely laid on the pattern set by the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life,” even though no member of the band has as distinctive vocals of Lennon or McCartney. The chiming lead guitar of “Step On Board” and “Overhead the Sun” clearly recall the Byrds, just as the vocal delivery found on the contemplative “Old Winter’s Timing” and the slightly quirky “Hey! Where Have You Been?” is strongly reminiscent of that of Ray Davies and the Kinks. Largely, though, this stuff leans a little farther to the Monkees end of the spectrum than the Beatles.
Throughout the sprawl of the 17 tracks, the mood remains light and playful with only a few moments of melancholy adding atmospheric variation. The non-stop happy-go-lucky snappiness of the arrangements might grow a little daunting for those not entirely enamored with pre-psychedelic 1960’s guitar pop, as there is nothing vaguely experimental or existential or even vaguely subversive represented here (another distinction between them and the E6 bands). Overall, despite the rather by-the-numbers approach, the album is fun and endlessly endearing, bursting with innocence and carefree naiveté. Ultimately, they might have arrived just about 38 years too late, but the Cusacks keep the spirit of the first half of the 60’s alive with More Songs from Vagabondia.