I Heart California
Admiral Radley is a union of four long-time friends and indie musicians – Jason Lytle and Aaron Burtch of Granddaddy with Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray of Earlimart. They initially tried to express this collaborative effort in the band’s name, wavering between Grandimart and Earlidaddy, but realized that these were not very good names for a rock band. Inspiration struck when the band mates had a chance encounter with a mysterious seaman, who called himself Admiral Radley and suggested they name their band after him and “go forth and play shows and spread [their] loose and enjoyable message.” They took his advice. This proved to be a much more fitting name for the Golden State musicians, who make music intimately tied to their coastal roots with an understated coolness.
This project is similar in style to what these bands have produced over the years, and is stamped with Jason Lytle’s lighthearted pop sound, while Earlimart contributes a folksier element, with ethereal electronic noises and breathy vocals common throughout. The album opens with its title track, on the surface a catchy synth-pop ode to the band’s home state, although a satirical derision of California life lurks in the verses, as Lytle pokes fun at drugs in diaper bags and “fake tits.” The track strikes a balance between its hook-driven, upbeat pop aspect and the reflective, yet witty lyrics, something that these musicians have made a career of, and aptly bring to this album.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Earlimart compositions are what really stand out on the album, with “Ending of Me” and “Chingas in the West” proving to be two of the album’s best tracks. Espinoza’s other contributions, “Ghosts of Syllables” and “Lonesome Co.,” are also both stirring and pleasant tracks, carried by layered acoustic and electric guitars complemented by piano and synth riffs. Not to be outdone, Murray supplies a wonderful love song in “The Thread,” affectionately singing poetic lyrics like “Will we live to 98? Watch our hair go gray / Will we go out with a bang? Will we fade away? / In other words I hope that we’ll still hold hands / and laugh about the way things end.”
Admiral Radley are heartfelt at times, catchy at others, but they never take themselves too seriously; they mock the Governator in “I Heart California,” and even made a karaoke video to complement the single; during a section of “Sunburn Kids” they mention various countries and play instruments characteristic of each place; they sing songs about Star Trek (“GNDN”) and skateboarding (“Red Curbs”). However, underneath the pop hooks and humorous references are well-crafted and compelling songs. As Espinoza put it, it’s “a fun record with serious moments.” For example, in “GNDN,” one of Lytle’s best contributions to the album, he tenderly sings about “Spock” and the Enterprise, and the catchy hook “It goes nowhere / and it does nothing” is a reference to Star Trek, but the song may also be a metaphor for the musicians themselves, as when he sings “The critics would say the sounds you would make were so second-rate / and your instruments were fake / well of course they were fake.”
Unfortunately, their casual attitude causes them to miss the mark on occasion. “I’m All Fucked on Beer” is a frantic party anthem that seemed to be a lot of fun to make, as all the band members drunkenly yell the chorus with their tongues comfortably planted in their cheeks and can be heard laughing in the studio as the recording ends. This time though, their ode to good times just ends up being obnoxious, with its heavy distortion, incessant backbeat, and yelled vocals. All in all though, these seasoned indie artists do not disappoint, delivering fun and sincere pop songs that ooze with west coast influences and summer living, providing plenty of reasons to heart Admiral Radley.