A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the California Heart LP by Great Apes.
It is often said that the mastering process required to present music on vinyl (instead of CD or mp3) is part of what really changes the overall experience of the format (above and beyond the obvious physical contact made between stylus and vinyl). But that still doesn’t exactly explain the difference a listener will discover between a digital copy of Great Apes‘ newest album, California Heart, and a vinyl copy.
I make that claim genuinely. I’d already been won over by California Heart when I reviewed the CD last year – the songs, sound and energy were all fantastic – but I realized what I’d been missing right away when I sunk a stylus into a vinyl copy of the album. As soon as I put it on, I was confronted by a much, much louder (and more raucous, by extension) presentation of California Heart. The sound was bigger, a little more raw and right in my face – and the music had my undivided attention all over again.
On vinyl, the way that the sensation of the music comes on is just spectacular. As soon as the tone arm is set into position and the stylus sinks in to find California Heart’s title track, listeners get the wall of sound produced by guitarists Chris Chapel and Brian Moss, bassist Ryan Marshall and drummer Matthew Kadi thrown so hard in their faces that they’ll be pressed right up against it, right away. There is no methodology about it, it’s just “off to the races, right off the bat,” and all they’ll be able to do is try to keep up after peeling themselves off the opening. They’ll still be rushing to catch up as the band questions if they were only born to die at the conclusion of “California Heart” four minutes later but, by then, the hook will have already been set within listeners and they’ll only be too happy to get pulled along as the side continues.
… And, as it moves along, does the A-side ever cover a lot of ground. “The Last Days Of Tranquility” follows the title track and seeks to escape the city rat race in favour of quiet solitude and the chance to reflect with the help of a pen, scribbler and a pack of Parliaments before “Bullard Hex” remembers a Halloween frat party philosophically (check out lines like “Uninvited on Halloween to a party full of philistines/ I went as an invisible man/ I spied still in the shaking halls and walked through the sweating walls/ With a red plastic cup in my hand”), “Saint Brasher” remembers teachers respectfully and “Brown Dots” revisits a high school acid trip to close out the side.
Every step of the way, Great Apes cut a wholly unique contrast between the persona that they express lyrically and the one they offer through their instruments. The guitar-driven songs themselves are all cocksure bravado and volume, but the lyrical fare is far more poetic in form and mature in performance. As a result, the A-side produces a misleading impression that these songs are raucous indie/punk/rock songs and little more, but that is not the case at all. Finding the softer, more poetic nature of California Heart’s A-side requires closer listening to really get it, especially on the “louder” vinyl pressing, and the discovery of true genius is undeniable after that’s achieved.
That true, more poetic heart which is present but harder to find immediately on the A-side of California Heart is unmissable on the album’s B-, not because the volume decreases necessarily, but because the more heartfelt sentiments in the second five songs are that much harder to avoid. Right off, while there is precisely no decrease in volume, listeners will find and instantly respect the sentiments in the lines, “Turning the worn beige pages of the photo album I found/In the basement with all the shit Mom and Dad don’t use/ They looked almost alive once, camping on the coast and/ Laughing in the backyard with the friends they don’t see now.”
Such image creation and emotional presentation rivals that of the work that many bands finally reach nearly ten years into their careers, but it arrives ready, tight and complete here, and so well that it’s almost unbelievable. Listeners may find themselves questioning how many feels and duds had to be worked on and thrown out in order for the band to reach the level that “Regarding You and Me” plays out so easily and beautifully.
The band doesn’t bother to break stride though, and actually steps up the energy as they simultaneously get just that much more fatalistic on “Chukchansi’s Complacency for Beginners” (see “They game has been rigged/ It’s set for defeat/ They’ll bet on stacked odds/ ‘Cuz they’re so minor league”) and (understandably) critical of twenty-first century romantic practices for “Prom Com” (“Look at the robots dating with their thumbs/ Click to lick, swipe to cum/ Edit yourself, no flaws seen/ Desperate sales pitch, sex machine”) and then just fall down feeling flat-out beaten for “The Escapist” but still have enough enough oomph to knock that side-ender out of the park too.
Some listeners may complain that the B-side of California Heart illustrates no change in structure (all the songs on both the A- and B-sides are the same tempo, there is no break in that routine), but those who are really taken in by the sound will find themselves elated that there is no change offered. The band gives no quarter, but listeners will find they’re happy that there wasn’t one by the end.
Looking at California Heart altogether, listeners will find that, while they’re exhausted at the experience of running front-to-back with the album, there isn’t a single, solitary thing they’d change about it. Front-to-back, the album is a fantastic introduction for the band. Sure, they released other music before this, but California Heart is the one which commands attention and deserves to see the band break through to the highest echelons of mainstream exposure.
Ground Control Magazine’s The Year in Music 2016 – [Feature]
Ground Control Magazine – Great Apes – California Heart – [Album Review]