It's not difficult to understand people's obsession with California, especially if you've spent a significant amount of time here. It can be a magical place, which is why it comes up in pop music so often -- see Led Zeppelin's "Going to California," Phantom Planet's new cult hit (thanks to The O.C.) "California," and much, much more in between. But in the case of the Thrills, who name-check Santa Cruz, Big Sur, and Hollywood in the song titles on their debut, So Much for the City, there's something false, sneaky, and plastic at play. The Dublin band reportedly spent several months on the West Coast before recording the album. Still, regardless of any rays or insight the musicians might have soaked up while they were here, it sounds as if they're ripping off all the British bands that've been trying to sound American for the last four decades.
On "Just Traveling Through," as if anticipating criticism, vocalist Conor Deasy offers, "If this sounds phony/ Don't say I didn't warn," with his forced, throaty singing. Much of the problem is actually Deasy's voice itself, which seems like it was filtered through an American-accent-and-smoker's-cough emulator during the recording process. Meanwhile, the rest of the band members lack any sort of swing when they employ kitsch-y piano eighth notes or trebly, clean guitar sprinkles on their folk-pop numbers. It's too bad modern technology couldn't give the rhythm section a little bit of soul: There's a stiffness to all the guitars, harmonicas, slide guitars, and banjos on So Much for the City that makes them seem inauthentic.
Deasy can warn us all he wants, but the fact of the matter is, if you're looking to hear something mellow, jangly, and properly Californian, pull out an old Beach Boys or Byrds record instead of shelling out for Virgin's latest contrived hatchling.
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