Listen To My Shapes – The Sensations
As lead guitarist of California’s Mother Hips, Greg Loiacono was the Everly Brothers counterpoint (and fistful rock salute) to Tim Bluhm’s John Muir musings. Or, as Rick Rubin opined, was the "McCartney to Bluhm’s Lennon," helping to make a sound described, and arguably best perpetuated currently by Kelley Stoltz, as California soul.
A titular that connotes the Beach Boys and the Byrds. Or in particular and in no apparent order: Pet Sounds (or even Friends), Merle Haggard, Malibu, Gidget, Dr. Byrd and Mr. Hyde, ‘Sin City,’ Joshua Tree, and Gram Parsons.
Which better described Beachwood Sparks than the Mother Hips. If anything the Hips had more in common with mid ’60s British Invasion bands, and with specific albums at that: Beatles’ Revolver, The Kinks’ The Village Green Preservation Society, The Bee Gees’ 1st, The Rolling Stones’ Between The Buttons (emphasis on ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’), and Them’s Here Comes the Night. Resonating not just their sound, but the societal themes these albums perpetuated; staring at the world through a bright red viewmaster at things equal parts hip and idyllic.
The obvious point being, the argument of Brit Rock versus Topanga aside, the Mother Hips were retro; i.e. enamored with those "Mystic Eyes."
When the Mother Hips went on hiatus in 2003, Loiacono began recording his first solo album, choosing to record his late-‘60s styled album on a reel to reel eight-track with Mother Hips bassist Paul Hoaglin overseeing.
Hoaglin, as a result, endeared an openness to the recording. The music breathes, feeling like a piece of dusty, ragged vinyl you might find in the 25 cent bin at Goodwill. Missing, despite their best intentions, are the occasional needle pops and snaps and the sensation of worn plastic slip-sliding the needle.
And like some of the Mother Hips pennings, Loiacono’s lyrics (minus the Will Oldham referencing "I, As A Ghost") have a childish quality, something like the Kinks’ early 1970s albums. "Cruising down the road on my Mike McGill/Listen for a moment it gets better still" before his Ray Davies like voice, a voice where the note is accurate but always just a little off-kilter, sings about being "brave" with the bubbling chorus of "bop-bop-ba-bop" underneath. The song reflects the album’s cover, a pastiche of images of flowers, leaves, and deer, and reminding me of a bag of jelly beans.
The Crazy Horse styled "Incredible Man" and the slow shuffling Them-esque/10cc-I’m not in love "Slow to Show" take lyrical puns and jokes and turn them inside out. They aren’t like his Mother Hips partner’s introspective Robert Frost stylings nor even his own Mother Hips attempts like "Seaward Son."
Instead they are simple. Comfortable. Arguably saccharine. And like the music, foregoing originality for easy of palatability. There are mellotrons and fat Beatle basses. The guitars are scratchy, in a Velvet Underground way, and then bright and clear, even recalling Heart’s "Magic Man" on "Halving Me." Horn parts, in an uniformed and most un-New Orleans way, come in and out. While the insertion of strings and Tom Roper’s percussive flourishes come from a Muscle Shoals past, lifted from some of Dusty Springfield’s later work.
And thus Listen to my Shapes becomes a confluence of influences, something the album’s title references. It sounds like my childhood room looked, replete with tattered rock posters, stiff mattress beds, sheets with iron on stickers, and the smell of my LPs’ weathered cardboard covers. It isn’t an instant classic, or original, but a guilty enjoyment nonetheless in its familiarity, just like the Mother Hips best releases.