The Upshot: Folk-rock, atmospheric psychedelia, luminous balladry, and more from this indie-pop supergroup.
BY FRED MILLS
Vicki Peterson. John Cowsill. Bill Mumy. Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas. Wait, you don’t recognize the names? Maybe the group’ they’re most closely associated with will jog your memory: Bangles, The Cowsills, Barnes & Barnes, Neil Young. Clear now? Good. Let’s discuss.
A project that began in early 2014 following an impromptu Christmas party gather-around-the-piano harmonizing session, Angels Hear almost never happened due to Rosas’ sudden passing the following November. But the remaining three remembered they had cut some special material, so once each musician tied up individual loose ends, they reconvened in the studio and polished things off, even drafting Mumy’s former Lost In Space co-star Angela Cartwright for art layout and graphic design duties.
Right from the get-go, Angels Hear is a sonic delight, with the Brit Invasion baroque pop of “Mainstream” leading the way via sinewy jangle-twang riffs, a very McCartneyesque bass line, and take-your-breath-away vocal harmonies. “In the Future” follows, each of the three singers swapping off on lead vocals against an irresistible Bo Diddley beat, and that in turn is followed by the downcast-but-luminous heartbreak ballad “If I See You in Another World.” From there the aural delights keep coming as the group essays a remarkable number of styles—the Laurel Canyon folk of “Map of the World”; swaggering garage rock for “Standing on a Mountain”; atmospheric psychedelia—not to mention those three-part harmonies again—in “The Beast and the Best”; the minor-key Americana of lengthy, and masterful, album closer, “The Land of Dreams.”
With Rosas permanently absent, it’s hard to predict whether Action Skulls will ultimately turn out to be a one-off; the members have stated that the bass player was a undeniable part of the musical alchemy they all experienced in the studio. (Mumy and Cowsill’s son Will pitched in on bass duties when it came time to complete the album.) Peterson, of course, continues with the Bangles; Cowsill is a touring member of the Beach Boys; and Mumy is a producer and filmmaker. But for the time being we’ve got this album, and as a result the music world is just a little warmer and brighter. No bones about it.
DOWNLOAD: “The Land of Dreams,” “Mainstream,” “Map of the World”