Bikeride – Morning Macumba

Morning Macumba

Right about the time that grunge came to its logical conclusion with Kurt Cobain’s suicide, a plucky collection of bands decided that you didn’t have to be unwashed and brooding to be cool. Naturally enough, these bands tended to originate from California, primarily its southern half. Bikeride is one of them. Led by Tony Carbone, the band has released its fourth album, Morning Macumba, an album that asserts as forcefully as any of its peers that expressing joy in pop music may be as necessary for keeping it real as gangsta rap grit pretends to be.
Carbone and Co’s dedication to the sunnier side of the emotional spectrum could have led to a number of different places. Perhaps most obvious of their options would be to pick up a jangly guitar at Roger McGuinn’s yard sale and imitate Big Star. Judging from the final product, this lacked the necessary appeal. They could have also gone full-on twee, but this trendy adjective doesn’t entirely do justice to what Bikeride does. While Carbone’s ludicrously sugary voice certainly courts that term, his flexible and form-twisting songwriting does an admirable job keeping things on the friendly side of the cute/cloying fence. The element that deserves more credit for this than any other is the band’s ability to use production effects as means to an end rather than as ends in themselves. With as many tricks as they have at their disposal, it’s easy to imagine a series of gratuitous pieces of electro-frippery trying to pass themselves off as a coherent artistic statement. Such is thankfully not the case. Bikeride consistently refuses to emphasize the frosting at the expense of the cake, and considering the dwindling number of music listeners who are apparently still capable of making the distinction between the two, it’s an especially tasty surprise.
Talented as they are, Bikeride is sure to meet with more than its share of detractors, some with legitimate gripes and some without them. To the hidebound sourpusses – and you know who you are – Morning Macumba will probably sound as irritatingly dopey as vintage Brian Wilson, but such folk might be inclined to come around if they ever graduate from high school, literally or mentally. Other, more mature listeners might say instead that the album is too precious, and though they have some decent targets in the vocals and lyrics, the fact remains that the songs on display here are solid and winning beneath the shiny surfaces. Last, Bikeride might take some flak for showing their influences too transparently. The tired line of thought fueling this criticism is the most easily dismissed. Yes, this band almost certainly listened to the Beach Boys and a few other standard faves, but that doesn’t instantly invalidate the results.
Morning Macumba was inspired by other music; so was almost everything else ever written, and Bikeride swirls their source material together in such a way that you can easily forget about what records happened to be in their collections during their formative years. Even on “Small Faces,” a tip of the cap if ever there was one, the lines connecting the titular mod gods to this cut are surprisingly obscured. In short, Morning Macumba deserves widespread appreciation. Whether or not they’ll actually get it is another story altogether.