Where do they come from, these bottomless reserves of melodies that evoke every great Californian pop moment of the past 30 years –whether the Beach Boys or Flying Burrito Brothers or Fleetwood Mac – without mimicking any of them? And why is that their most generous springs are almost all clustered in Nova Scotia, lying in wait for yet another local prodigy to harvest an album’s worth of them and then share them with the world? And why does our country continue to ignore them while, overseas, tongues wax ecstatic?
Last year, Halifax’s the Heavy Blinkers released Better Weather, an evocatively titled masterpiece seemingly broadcast from an alternate universe in which AM Top 40 radio dictates the tenor of life. It remains one of the best classicist Canadian pop record in years, but it has strong competition in this debut from Hopeful Monster, the vehicle for one Jason Ball. Written, performed and produced by Ball at his rural home studio in Seabright, he and a supporting cast of over a dozen have created 11 songs that strive to do justice to a bygone era of pop in which grandeur was requisite, size mattered (think Phil Spector, Pet Sounds).
Hopeful Monster gets down to business immediately, “River Reflexive” letting loose a flurry of horns, harmonies, and Who-like drum flourishes while Ball declares “Someday when the stars are all in line / I’ll make gospel of the cliches.” Perhaps better still is “Daily Electric,” a Theremin-dappled gem that imagines the Banana Splits taking over from Brian Wilson after his late-’60s meltdown, but fronted by the Zombies’ Colin Blundstone. There’s also a clutch of lovely chamber-country ballads; the pedal steel that weaves throughout “Universal Donor” sounds as if it’s been left to fend for itself in the desert, while “Cobra Wings” and “Silver Lining” rise out of their initially disconsolate moods to become widescreen testimonials to joy. Another under-the-radar homespun classic. What will it take to make more people hear the brilliance in our midst?