Hopeful Monster’s mastermind Jason Ball plays guitars, keyboards, bass, percussion, mandolin and theremin, but this isn’t a one-man show.  Creating what could be described as an “analog orchestra” (also populated with strings and horns), Ball has given this disc a lush and quirky sound.  If the theremin signals a clue into Ball’s love of the Beach Boys, then the sweet layered vocals and the sunshine pop vibes make his affection explicit.  Separating Ball from the other would-be Wilsonians is his creative use of country elements (particularly Dale Murray’s invaluable pedal steel playing).  While “River Reflexive” and “Daily Electric” kick the record off to a bouncy start, the twangy and dreamy “Universal Donor” slows the pace.  Instead of writing about surfing and girls, Ball favors rather knotty lyrics (“cast me off this naked bough/ the fruit is rotten”) that make his songs more esoteric than engaging.  Its notable that “Goldmine,” which recalls both early Todd Rundgren and Neil Young, stands as the disc’s most emotionally direct track as well as one of its most memorable songs.  With one foot in the ‘60s Space Age and the other in a desert sand dune, Ball has created a beguiling sound for his Hopeful Monster.

Michael Berick