How I Spend My Summers
It may have been a cool April and a deceptively temperate beginning of May in Delhi (which otherwise scorches at this time of the year) but I am sitting and writing this and listening to what I think is one of my ideal summer listening albums. It’s a 2004 album called Fly Between Falls and it’s by Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) and it has all the ingredients you need to make it best suited for summer: the band hails from sunny California; their music is upbeat and so are their lyrics; there’s a relaxed yet nicely funky groove to their sound; and they don’t tend to pound the stuffing out of your head no matter how loud you want to listen to them.
It’s the perfect-for-summer music that these months make you crave for. A bit like the kind of fiction that is best read in the summer. And I think, as the heat starts building up, I’ve found the best combination: I’m reading the ultimate slacker novel and listening to the laidback summery upbeat music on Fly Between Falls. The novel, Adam Wilson’s Flatscreen, has a protagonist who is an archetypal loser—is unemployed, is permanently high, stays with his mother, is compared constantly to a successful brother and is rejected repeatedly by women. A good combination, I think they make—the book and ALO’s album. But first, some more on ALO.
Part of the reason why Animal Liberation Orchestra have remained an underrated—well, you could even say, unknown—band is their name. It’s an unfortunate name that does little to give you any idea of their music. There’s nothing animalistic about ALO’s music; and they’re hardly an orchestra. It’s hard to pigeon-hole ALO’s music, though. Some reviewers take a cue from their proclivity for improvisation and call them a jam band but that doesn’t necessarily do it. ALO are Zach Gill, Steve Adams, Dan Leibowitz and Dave Brogan and on Fly Between Falls the quartet plays, besides the usual guitars, drums and keyboards, the pennywhistle, a wood flute, a clavinet, a Wurlitzer and congas. You can hear groove and funk and Latin influences and several of the songs have the ‘earwormy’ attribute—with the melodies inclined to stick in your head and recur through the day.
ALO are signed on to the Hawaii-based surfer-songwriter Jack Johnson’s label, Brushfire Records, and Johnson features on at least one of the tracks on Fly Between Falls. The band has released five or six studio albums since the late 1990s and the latest one, Sounds Like This, is just out but the best way to enjoy the band is probably to try and hear them live. I heard recordings of their performances at a couple of rock festivals, notably, Vegoose at Las Vegas, and realised that it is at gigs that they are at their best, improvising and jamming and taking songs off their catalogue to other heights. You can stream or download their entire 2005 Vegoose set at archive.org or explore the countless gigs that are stream-able on that website and treat yourself to great improvised versions of the band, whose songs never sound boring no matter how many versions of them you hear.
That might make it seem that ALO are a typical jam band but they’re not. For one, it’s a band that you can listen to anywhere—sitting at a desk and doing some work; driving on a trip somewhere; or, just doing nothing and having them play in the background. For me, that third mode works best—do nothing and just let them play. Or, you could read Flatscreen, like I am doing, to the accompaniment of ALO. It helps that the antics of the book’s chronically high main character is kind of summed up by some of ALO’s lyrics, such as this bit from one of their songs: “They just got a sack weighing 3 point 5./It was 4:19. Just about that time;/ I saw crazy Bruce. He was waiting for / someone to buy him some fine malt liquor. / When he gets it in his system, / he’s a real shit-kicker;/ and “Somebody stuck a doob in my hand./ Well, I took a hit and passed it on./ I woke up on the pavement not before too long. That song’s called Wasting Time but then I think you must’ve got the drift by now.