Audio Mixer: Mikey Young.
Recording information: Electric Duck Studio, San Francisco, CA.
Hitting a graceful midpoint between the pop-centric side of '60s garage rock (less fuzz, more jangle) and the sun-dappled sound of early psychedelia (think Younger Than Yesterday-era Byrds without the world-weary undertones), the Cool Ghouls have delivered a cool pop triumph with their third full-length album, 2016's Animal Races. That description would suggest Cool Ghouls are deeply infatuated with the sounds of the past, and they clearly are. But unlike many like-minded bands, these folks embrace their inspirations as a jumping-off point and use them to make music that sounds fresh, smart, and deeply satisfying, not nostalgic for an era they never knew. Animal Races is built around an easygoing playfulness that meshes well with the group's melodic sensibility, but the performances speak of a quiet intensity that lives in the here and now. Guitarists Pat McDonald and Ryan Wong wind lead and rhythm lines around one another and at their best, it's sheer Rickenbacker heaven. Bassist Pat Thomas and drummer Alex Fleshman are a great rhythm section, solid and expressive without intruding on the melodies. And whether the band is exploring their psychic parameters on "Time Capsule," drifting with the current on "Days," indulging their country influences on "(If I Can't Be) The Man," or kicking up their heels on "Brown Bag," these songs feel as good as a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day. The production (by Kelley Stoltz) is straightforward and plays to the band's strengths, and guest pedal steel player Tom Heyman adds the right high-lonesome touch on his tracks. Released in August 2016, Animal Races comes a bit late in the season to be the smart indie pop album of the summer, but if you want to conjure the mood of a beautiful day in a warm California town, the Cool Ghouls are just the band to do it. ~ Mark Deming