If you've grown weary of the winter weather, I've got the perfect antidote for your Nor'easter blues. And for all you alpine sports enthusiasts, the perfect audio stimulation to inspire your powdery day of boarding/skiing down a mountainside. Moreover, it even works wonders in the land of the sun. Might even lift you up beyond the smog.
Daniel Wylie is an earnest and prolific folk-rocker from Glasgow, Scotland. He enjoys wearing his heart on his sleeve, and that abets him in writing and recording near-perfect pop-rock tunes. Songs that slather on the optimism and self-replicating hooks.
His execution, song craft, and production will make you smile and sing along, a rare thing in these emo-challenged days. Sorta like the early days of West Coast folk-rock scene; think The Grass Roots, The Turtles, CSN, The Mamas & The Papas, latter-day Beach Boys, that whole jangly genre. Even poppier than fellow countrymen Teenage Fanclub, another band that I admire greatly for its West Coast influence. Mr. Wylie has suggested on myspace that he is a fan of much of that music -- and more -- from that time period. No doubt he was utterly infected by its cosmic vibe, so much so that in 1998 he and his partner Stephen Fleming co-opted the term for their first band - Cosmic Rough Riders. By 2000, the quartet had released two indie cult faves -- Deliverance (1999) and Panorama (2000) -- on their own label, and the U.K. press rightfully anointed them. But all bets were off when he and his lads released their crowning jewel and one of the greatest rock records of the last 15 years. 41 minutes and 15 seconds of rock and roll heaven. A record that was reconfigured and rerecorded from both the above-mentioned records for the indie rock avatar Alan McGee's -- once of the indie powerhouse lable Creation Records -- last gasp at greatness with the short-lived, but largely neglected label Poptones. And a CD -- though it never got released in the States -- which I have played more than any other CD in my ever-expanding collection.
Enjoy the Melodic Sunshine sums up the parts of the whole, and the whole of the parts. I do enjoy it, time and time again, and I hope that you will listen to this song cycle over and over again, and let the sun shine in from this Northern Great Britain outpost thousands of miles from the sunny lands of Hollyweird. The CD opens with the short (1:12) but sweet Zep III-like song-circle filigree of "Brothers Gather Round" -- "Brothers gather round/we'll be harvesting the land..." Then visit the tripping new hippies' love fest in the big acoustic guitar-driven "Glastonbury Revisited" and ask yourself, "where have all the angels gone/now that all the acid's done?" And did my parents do the same at Woodstock or is it just the wishful thinking of my foolish youth?
Get lost in the sweet harmonies and chiming Rickenbacker guitar of "Sometime" -- "I'm not saying that she's not nice/But I'm not ready for ties that bind/So let's not buy the rings just yet/Let's live for today..."
Or imagine the joy of waiting for "Emily Darling" with its If I Could Only Remember My Name Crosby-like vocal intro and bridge workout. "I'm flllyyyyiiiing/watch me now/ I'm flllyyyyiiiing/watch me now" in "Baby, You'e so Free" comes complete with a vibing faux Theremin keyboard hook. And the brilliant melodramatic pop workout of "Melanie" who waits lovingly in New York City, beckoning her passport-challenged lover to physically reach her, to get past the JFK customs agent. And I want them to connect. "They say you need a reason/To breathe out and to breathe in." I do as I sing along while the Wilson-like harmonies tug at my heart.
The record ends with another Beach Boys vocal homage, "Morning Sun," and I want more. More from these Rough Riders. But it was not to be, as Mr. Wylie opted out soon after this magnum opus, perhaps recognizing that they'd never scale this zenith again. He knew it was time go it alone, though his band bravely marches on.
But lo and behold, Mr. Wylie didn't disappear into a dead-end day job. And I happened upon his sunny solo work, though it hardly made a pin prick in the American rock journalism blog-o-sphere. Oh, how pleased I was when I finally heard his solo work. Our Manchester-based writer Robert Cochrane found all three of them in the used bin at his local indie retailer shop and mailed them to me in New York.
All three of Mr. Wylie's delightful solo efforts are definitely a continued exploration of the musical journey he began with CRR. More jangle, more sweet harmonies, more melodic pop rock. And his first effort nearly rivals Enjoy, nearly. Ramshackle Beauty exploded, shattering my lofty expectations from his CRR days. And I was whole again. The delicate beauty of "Brighton Beach" brought me home. The galloping rocking "Snow Pony" immediately ushered in his greatness as a solo artist. (Were these leftover CRR songs rescued for his solo debut?)
"I may be high/But you're my alibi," from "Going Nowhere Again" recedes into my lyric-soaked brain. The sun is warm and my love is tight again.
Postcards. from 2005, was ostensibly an outtakes collection. And not surprisingly, not as immediate as the first one, but after a few listens "Bluebird Flying High" and "A Song for the Lonely" grab me. Stripped down folk-pop miles from the radio rubbish force-fed to the masses, just multi-layered vocal harmonies and acoustic guitars. Try as I might, Brian Wilson references still infect my reference points. In a good way. This is his homage to a time when music was simple yet complex. Vocals that dance around each other, flirting with sweet sun-baked melodies. There's that word again. Poppy sentimental goo -- making love to your baby, the innocence, the splendor, those perfect Kodak moments. This is not your parents' Air Supply; this is pop-rock perfection, albeit unabashedly twee. Perhaps Glasgow became the new Laurel Canyon a few years back. From the super fuzzed-out guitar sandpapered rock-pop ditties of The Jesus & Mary Chain to the quirkier Belle & Sebastian to Byrds-like Teenage Fanclub to Wylie and CRR. This is the Scottish vision of SoCa distilled through their rain-soaked envy. They can't help but write so many sunny and infectious pop-rock nuggets. And then in '06 Mr. Wylie released The High Cost of Happiness. I've yet to completely ingest all of its gorgeous songs and melodies, as I'm still catching up to his first two solo CDs. But "Rainbow City" seems an early favorite, merging the rainy bleakness of Scotland with the sunny optimism of Southern California: "I don't want to annoy you/Calling you every night and every day/But we only live once/And I just want to enjoy life."
Please don't play this music only when you're down. Turn it up when you want to vacuum your walls. Download it to your iPod when you need to drown out the screams of the City. Or when you want to scream out the lyrics caught in traffic on some sunny Cali freeway. Just play it over and over again. Play it because you can't help yourself. Play it because it deserves to be heard, not just by you, but by everyone.
No, this isn't the sound of genocide. This is the sound of optimism. Where the reason to celebrate life is the pursuit of love and that's reason enough to sing along. And because music, if you like it, you can't help but be moved by it.
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!