While not a house hold name, Robert Ellis Orrall has built an impressive list of career achievements over the last forty years. From helping to build Nashville’s indie scene through his Infinity Cat label, to co-producing Taylor Swift’s debut album, he’s proven to be as influential behind the scenes as he has through his own music. While previously recording under the moniker of Monkey Bowl, on his new album 467 Surf and Gun Club, he puts his own name forward for an album of classic sounding, summertime pop rock that could certainly brighten anyone’s day.
Listening to the album, the influence of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys is everywhere. Lyrically, the songs here are very straight-forward and made for easy sing-alongs and relatable messaging. The aptly titled “Morning Song” opens with ‘Rolling out of bed, long before the sun comes up”, and carries an optimistic chorus (“it’s gonna be okay. I’m gonna get another day”) that fits perfectly with the upbeat melody. Orrall adds touches of keyboard, spacey bass and synths to keep the track modern, but when he goes into the harmonized “bah bah bahs” at the end, you’ll find yourself transported back to the sixties.
The arrangements throughout the album are warm and lush, layering orchestral touches over simple drum beats and harmonized vocals. The fervent piano that opens first single “Here in Our Backyard” is softened by the sunny guitar lines, creating a joyful atmosphere at Orrall sings “With the bottle rockets in our pocket, we’re gonna light up the sky”. The title track is a breezy surf pop meditation that feels like the musical equivalent of satisfaction.
The bounciest songs here are some of the most fun. “Iceberg” spins a romantic day dream about getting stuck in the North Atlantic on floating ice while watching the Aurora Borealis with someone you love over jaunty acoustic guitars. And “Sunshine” is a perfect, head-bobbing beach song that will make you wish you had a tambourine you could bang along to it.
Some of the songs here do follow a formula that at times feels repetitive; sparser openings, building to bigger, more heavily layered denouements, with chanting “bah bah bahs” closing out the tracks. While it’s all pleasant to hear, one may find themselves longing for a little more diversification in the tone, mood and structure of songs. “Welcome to Paradise” does venture into darker realms of unease, with the late Leon Russell adding his signature bluesy vocals to the chorus. Then there’s “Life Behind Bars”, a reflection on aging that sways to a waltz timing.
467 Surf and Gun Club is ultimately meant to be a feel-good record, and it succeeds at being this. From the nostalgic opener “In Dreams”, to the closing “Anthem 467”, which mixes in recordings of beach noises over marching band drums, guitar solos and various other effects. Robert Ellis Orrall‘s album is bright and uplifting, which we could probably all use these days.
The album is out this Friday, August 27th. Listen to the pre-released songs here.