I’ve followed the musical career of Zachary Gresham since his days in the mid-‘90s with fuzz-pop band Joe Christmas, loving his odd lyrics, catchy melodies, and lo-fi approach to recording music. Joe Christmas released two full-length CD’s on Seattle’s Tooth and Nail Records, including the stunningly sparse North to the Future. After Joe Christmas broke up, I was pleased to find out that Gresham didn’t miss a step, quickly forming a new band dubbed Summer Hymns. Known for their psychedelic approach to alt-country, Summer Hymns has already released more CD’s and garnered more critical acclaim than Joe Christmas. With three full-lengths on the Misra records label, Summer Hymns have established themselves as a prolific band that has grown in their songwriting with each successive release. However, with Fool’s Gold, the band takes a step back in their production efforts. Instead of releasing a more polished CD a la Clemency, Fool’s Gold finds Summer Hymns releasing a collection of 10 short, lo-fi, alt-country songs that hearkens back to the delicate sounds of North to the Future…in a good way.
Fool’s Gold opens up with an odd, cheap-sounding keyboard, before the drums kick in into the strange melody of “Fear the Law”. I admit, the first time I heard this song, with its dissonant melody, weird lo-fi sounds, and loungesque mood, I was turned off. But, upon repeated listens, the normally-upfront melodies Summer Hymns is known for began to surface. In fact, the dissonance in the songwriting and sounds adds a depth to “Fear the Law” (and the rest of Fool’s Gold, for that matter) . “What They Really Do” follows, with its playful vocal accents “I’m singing yeah…1,2,3….ahhh” and campy groove. Here, Summer Hymns displays an amazing ability to write excellent melodies while encasing them in odd sounds, as strange horn sounds, loud drums, and other random songs invade the melody. A George Harrison cover, “Behind that Locked Door”, showcases the band’s country roots, as Summer Hymns interprets the song with a lazy, hazy southern drawl (complete with pedal steel, acoustic guitars, and sparse percussion). Other standout songs on Fool’s Gold include “It Takes Two”, with its funny lyrics (“It takes two to get it on”), and 70’s meets-country vibe, and “Capsized”, a song that could have been a demo-outtake for the band’s first dense CD Voice Brother and Sister with its organ and psychedelic mood.
Over all, Fool’s Gold is a charming collection of well-written songs. The lo-fi production quality of the songs, unconventional lyrical approach, and the shaky and sometimes out of tune singing of Gresham give Fool’s Gold a feeling that you’re listening to a bunch of old friends getting together to play music for fun in a garage somewhere in Georgia. Only, in this case, the band just happens to be a group with stellar songwriting who knows how to utilize lo-fi production to an amazing effect. Chalk up another classic-sounding release for Gresham et al. Summer Hymns has released one of the most interesting, fun, sloppy, and yet surprisingly listenable releases of the year. Recommended.