The warm psych-pop of The Celebrity Pilots‘ third release is an admirably consistent and generous pleasure. This Ohio-based vehicle for songwriter Chris Sheehan ranges through a long set of material on Hawks of the Lesser Antilles that can either tear with trippy fuzztone assertiveness or glide on dreamy beds of piano and weathered synths, all in a homespun and expertly pitched mid-fi mix.
The Guided By Voices comparisons are hard to avoid, inevitably suggested by Sheehan’s other job as sometime foil to Robert Pollard and also by latter-day GBV/Pollard producer Todd Tobias’ engineering and production work here. But Sheehan’s work stands comfortably alongside that of his boss; less surprising, less restless and reckless, but with a similar sense of classic pop influences being given the benefit of a wide open imagination and punky abandon.
“My Blizzard of Nails” is typical of the record’s best bits, a neat hook that comes at you sorta sideways, with tons of peppy, chopping guitars and just enough schizophrenia for a sudden break into lysergic balladry to end the whole thing. The use of keyboards is excellent throughout the disc too, whether it’s the bouncy piano singalong of “Hawks”, another song that follows its own wayward muse in and out of spaced-out breaks, or the washes of synthesized brass on “SPQR-EDT”.
Sheehan’s lyrics get a bit wordy and too often sacrifice decent scansion for some so-so imagery (“My head’s an old wax cylinder dispensary,” eg.) but it’s not much of a hindrance to these tunes, which are almost all strong, save a couple of mediocrities near the disc’s end. His voice is kinda bland though, likable but without a strong character of its own. Smartly, Sheehan and Tobias fill the mix with a variety of sounds to occupy the critical ear, nothing too gimmicky, just plenty of crashing guitars, some horns and all sorts of creatively applied vintage keyboard sounds.
Fans of bands like Olivia Tremor Control or Green Pajamas will love charging, fuzzed-out stuff like “Serious Archers” or cinematic ballads like “Lost a Limb”. The Celebrity Pilots do a good job of keeping the psych-pop rough enough to satisfy anyone leery of unnecessary polish or sheen while keeping the ear well stocked with candy. Hawks of the Lesser Antilles adds to the creative mileage Chris Sheehan has already racked up with the Pilots’ previous discs and on his other journeys through the glittering Ohio firmament.