Have you ever been to San Diego? I have. It’s a fantastic place that straddles the bounds of reality, especially for an east coast dude like myself. It feels too good to be true, as if it were the result of a science experiment designed to create the best possible environment for a person to live. The weather is beautiful, the ocean is within reach, the real world is close enough to stop by when needed and the baseball stadium is like, right there. When I first was there, while being driven through the famed Gaslamp Quarter of the city on a golf cart, I laughed.
This wasn’t a real place, I said. It couldn’t be.
Ah, but it is. It’s San Diego, a place where everyone in their twenties should visit once before the daunting task of turning thirty hits. You’ll struggle to leave. It’s understandable. On that drive into the city from the airport, with the mighty Pacific producing a wonderful aroma blowing in from your starboard side, you’ll be taken captive by the aura of San Diego. Relaxation will over take you and you’ll feel at peace in way that is almost unattainable back in your native lands of the rough and tumble east coast.
That sense of calm and peacefulness that encapsulates and embodies oh so beautiful San Diego weaves it’s way in and out of Mighty Mighty, the debut EP from Golden Howl, a folksy five piece that calls the city by the sea home. Mighty Mighty is short, but it’s three tunes stick with you thanks in large part to the beautiful harmonies and simplicity of the music. If pressed to describe the sound of Golden Howl, I’d tell you confidently that their music sounds ethereal and I’d leave it at that.
The band is front-lined by Marlo Smith on vocals and drums, Christopher Balcom on vocals and acoustic guitar and Shannon O’Shea, also on vocals, plus accordion, keyboard and glockenspiel. O’Shea is obviously in the band to beef up their rock ‘n roll bonafides. The trio clear the road on the EP’s three songs with their harmonies; harmonies that seem to make as much sense together as fish tacos, a cold beer and a warm San Diego night. In their notes, they talk about five-part harmonies, so I’m not sure if on “This Old House,” the band’s back line, guitarist Dimitry Zingerman and percussionist Rachel Riba, get in on the action or if it’s studio magic. Either way, the harmonies are beautiful as the folk tune serves as plea to listeners to be mindful of the world we are living in, the planet we are living on.
“Burn our bones for the land/nurture growth once again/let our ghosts see the living for what it is”
“Shea’s Song (Your Love)” has a Lumineers’ vibe to it, but that’s only because saying it has a Lumineers’ vibe is an easy way of describing the harmonies and sparse instrumentation in the song. But really, the song is coffeehouse folk at it’s finest. Once again the harmonies are in charge and their leadership skills are admirable. There’s some pain in the vocals, a yearning, a searching for something that comes through, especially as the song builds towards it’s peak. Driving the song towards the finish line is a sweet little guitar solo by Zingerman.
The third song, “West Coast,” calls to mind the peaceful moments of Local Natives, when they weren’t thundering on their drums and were anchored by their harmonies instead. “West Coast” would also be considered the most upbeat song of the three on Mighty Mighty, although that’s grading on a curve. The song has a movement to it; the music taking cues from Balcom’s vocals, which talk of travel and the endlessly mythical temptation of packing up and heading west.
On Mighty Mighty, the harmonies lure you in, but it’s a sense of serenity that you leave with, as the floating, wistful nature of the tunes all but take you by the hand and direct you towards the nearest hammock. It’s music befitting a specific setting, one in which you’re in a place to sit back and stare out at the blue, towards the horizon, out past the ocean and the waves, and if not take stock of your life, dip out on the prospect of a status update all together. It’s flip flop music, it’s summer breeze music, it’s lounging on the back porch music; the musical equivalent of comfort food.
It may not be for everyone, but for those that it is for, it’s a intriguing first course from an equally intriguing band.
Mighty Mighty comes out on August 1st.
Learn more about Golden Howl here.