Deadfellow’s “Mescalifornia: A California Dream”
An IndieBeat Album Review
Review by Josh S. Pineda, Founder & Curating-Editor, originally posted June 23, 2017 on indiebeatmusic.com
We start right where we left off in Deadfellow’s previous album, Love Songs For The Contemporary Listener (hereon Love Songs). There we got a taste of an orchestral twang in the downtempo and brooding closing track, “I Dreamed I Lost A Girl,” the driving thematic force in where we’re headed in his latest release, Mescalifornia: A California Dream. In the opening seconds of this new concept album, those orchestral elements tense up and distort transporting us into a dazed fever dream, complete with forewarning trumpet cadence and sparkling keys. The wavvy nostalgic twang soon returns in the guitar line, but now with the more hopeful tone of a familiar mid-century west coast sound.
Mescalifornia is a case study of deconstruction and sincerity, where a satirical approach to the sound-aesthetic of the Beach Boys–a sound that frontman Hayden Sammak detested before he forced himself to listen to and recreate, in order to try to understand what everyone’s so obsessed with–quickly turns into a quasi-homage and then back again, fluctuating between Sammak’s sardonic yet dead-on songwriting wit and a tribute to the romantically yearning sounds of yesteryear. Self-described as a “look at love through the lens of the post-talent bastardization of the search for the iconic California Dream,” the album simultaneously undermines and reinforces the myth, while also setting it in a more contemporary landscape. It’s quite fitting that a look at the post-talent age is done through a very thoughtful, layered, and charmingly talented method of metacommentary from an independent artist.
“Love, what do you see? Is this real or fantasy?” sings Sammak on “I’ll Be There In The Morning.” These are the key set of questions throughout this incredible six-track record. Mescalifornia serves as the phantasmagorical flip-side of Love Songs, where the listener experiences a more rose-colored and saccharine version of modern heartache, both caught in the moment, seeming passionately realistic, yet whose saturated facade is also exposed. Whereas Love Songs was raw and blunt, Mescalifornia is embracing with an evolved production quality, having a warmer tint in it’s exquisite instrumentals (especially depicted in deeper and exploratory tracks such as “A California Dream (Reprise)”).
Though we’re supposed to listen to the do-wops in an ironically wry way, the best moments of this album are where the songs turn in on themselves and we appreciate their surfaces for what they are: perfectly textured and orchestrated love songs, guided by comforting vocals. Even the most tongue-in-cheek lines draw you in, making for a truly immersive experience.
I don’t know whether I love this album because it perfectly plays with the exaggerated elements of Beach Boys-era romance and shows its hallucinatory effects, or because it uses that to its advantage to uncover why we sometimes need and want that myth, in order to escape the confines of reality and to enjoy a tender buzz once in awhile–even if we are left with a pained hangover. All in all, what’s fantastic about Mescalifornia is that it leaves you thinking about what you appreciate in the album itself, what the California Dream even means, and how love songs work for the contemporary listener.