Recording information: Mystery Lawn Mountain, Boulder Creek, CA; Mystery Lawn Studio, Sunnyvale, CA; U-Dot, Oakland, CA.
The Orange Peels' long career dedicated to crafting beautiful adult pop music almost came to a grisly halt when the band's Allen Clapp and Jill Pries were rear-ended by a drunk driver while they were on the way to a play a show. Luckily, they escaped with bumps and bruises and made it to the gig on time. The brush with death led them to return to the studio a bit sooner than planned and crank out their next album. Recorded in a mere five days, and with Clapp's fellow bandmembers (bassist Pries, guitarist John Moremen, and drummer Gabe Coan) contributing to the songwriting and arrangements, Begin the Begone continues the group's string of releasing the kind of pop music fans of Prefab Sprout or Aztec Camera should love. This time out, the sound is a little more mysterious, a little darker overall, with lots of moody keyboards and heavier drums. Clapp too sounds like he's singing about serious issues on tracks like "Fleeing the Scene" and "Satellite Song." Not too surprising considering the life-quaking experience he went through. It's not a gloomy album by any stretch since Clapp's still got a knack for writing nimble melodies and the arrangements allow for plenty of warmth and light. There are even a couple of almost tough-sounding rockers in the mix this time out: "Embers" is built on happily rollicking piano, but the insistent rhythm and jagged guitars create some fire; the echoing "Head Cleaner"'s pounding drums and Clapp's soaring vocals make it sound like the leanest and meanest XTC song ever. Add a couple of instrumentals to the lineup (the spacy "Tidepool" and the weird little "Post & Beam") along with some epic ballads with ripping guitar solos -- the guitars sound great throughout -- and it's classic Orange Peels. A little more dramatic, a little deeper-sounding in spots, but still the same brilliant pop band for people who like it brainy and handcrafted. ~ Tim Sendra