I’ve been buying my vinyl from Monkey Boy Records for around a year now, occasionally buying records solely on the strength of the sites backing, so I figured that the first release on the sites label outside of their distro would be a good one, and BeachBoy definitely is.
If you’re yet to listen to BeachBoy I’d recommend you do so via the bands Bandcamp, where you can read a little about each of the songs as you bask in them. A little back story goes a long way, because McCafferty play heartfelt, honest and occasionally humorous songs about life and the experiences that come with it. Although the meanings behind songs aren’t initially clear they’re easy to relate to once understood after repeat listens. It’s a compelling approach to songwriting that sets McCafferty apart and leaves their album with a lot more to offer, even if it does lie just beneath the skin. Vocalist Nick Hartkop adopts an oddly nostalgic and reflective stance on the people he knows and the times he’s shared with them, chronicling his experiences via moods both sombre and melancholy (‘Alligator Skin Boots ‘) or exuberant and energetic (‘BeachBoy’). As a result BeachBoy is both insatiably catchy and ultimately affecting, regardless of whether it’s covering zombies (‘Dead-Bird’) or long departed friends on ‘Blue Eyes Like The Devils Water’. This track in particular is one that hits home with myself, but there’s something for everyone on McCafferty’s debut. BeachBoy is a personal record, and it shows on tracks like ‘The Lion’s Den’, which is immaculately written and hard-hitting. Even tracks told from alternate perspectives like fourth track ‘BritRock’ are passionately conveyed, with lyrics longing for a future that seems painfully out of reach. Seventh track ‘Bottom’ takes a less emotional approach, opting for a strangely charming take on freedom of speech and generally not giving a shit about negativity. It’s fittingly upbeat, adding yet another tone to the spectrum McCafferty cover across their thirty minute long debut full length.
With bassist Chris Joecken and drummer Evan Graham alongside guitarist Hartkop BeachBoy is also quite complex instrumentally. Toe tapping drums underlie climbing guitar melodies whilst catchy bass guitar saunters in the background, and the three combined make for lively and contagious instrumentals on the majority of tracks. There’s a dancepunk vibe to the improvised ‘Wait’ whilst ‘The Lion’s Den’ is surprisingly energetic for a song revolving around the death of a loved one. Even short acoustic track ‘Becky’ manages to convey emotions despite only being a few lines long, as Hartkop sings in an off-key fashion reminiscent of Crywank. BeachBoy is always adventurous in its delivery and it’s a mixed bag that surprises and pleases every time it’s delved into. The title track in particular impresses, being fast and clever, and moments like these where the band abandon their inhibitions and just attempt to have a good time and let loose are brilliant. Admittedly, the song’s about struggling as an underground musician, but it’s not made entirely clear until the final verse, similarly to ‘Alligator Skin Boots’ and it’s take on sex. BeachBoy is very subtly and cleverly written, despite often laying itself bare, and Hartkop does a great job of expressing himself both lyrically and vocally, with his varied style only adding to the emotion behind his delivery. Above all else, McCafferty is a band that seems to mean something to all involved, and it shines through in every line of every song.
There’s one final aspect of BeachBoy I feel I should over, and that’s The Front Bottoms comparisons. Yes, McCafferty do sound a lot like the New Jersey duo, especially vocally, and a little in delivery. Hartkop acknowledges it himself on the appropriately named ‘Bottom’ and at the end of the day there are numerous similarities to draw between the two artists, but BeachBoy isn’t about drawing comparisons, and neither does it borrow a sound. It’s simply one man’s own attempt at self-expression in a way that works completely. BeachBoy is simply an album to enjoy and admire for its unique perspective and execution.
It may not always be an easy ride but McCafferty’s debut album is an experience to say the least. It finds a comfortable balance between unusual and unrestrained, and makes for a thoroughly memorable release that a listener can relate to without feeling burdened afterwards. There’s a lot to love and lose yourself in on BeachBoy, and you can pick it up for free, which is only a bonus considering how great it is. If, like me, you’re partial to an album on wax you can pre-order a vinyl version soon from Monkey Boy Records (UK) and Broadcast Records (US).
Rating – 8.5/10
Download it here: http://mccafferty.bandcamp.com/