You can’t classify We Are The West, nor would you want to. The trio of Bret Hool (vocals, guitar), John Kibler (bass/vocals) and Elizabeth Goodfellow (percussion/vocals) started with the guys as a duo in a shipping container on a sheep farm in Holland. They came to California via Brooklyn, recruited one LA’s city’s most innovative drummers, and developed a style and a body of work that defies definition but stimulates musical endorphins like no other.
We Are The West specializes in creating and playing at out-of-the-box (or sometimes very much in the box) venues that have really stunning acoustical properties like the Santa Monica underground parking garage that hosts their monthly concerts. They use these environments and their top-level music writing and playing skills to creates dreamy, stormy, urgent, galactic sonic environments using drums, chimes, guitar, bass, woodwinds, strings, pump organ, the audiences’ cellphones, accordion, and vocal harmonies unmatched in pop/jazz/rock/opera.
Followers of their live shows, especially their Saturday-before-the-full-moon parking garage concerts, are legion but the fan base for their recordings has grown as they have toured, both physically and online through tweets, retweets, videos, posts and FB swoons. So their first full-length album was much anticipated. It was worth the wait.
Some of the 11 songs on The Golden Shore are new, some are familiar to their live audiences, and all stand on the shoulders of the band’s four previous EPs. As they do in their live concerts, We Are The West brought many of their wide circle of musicians into the songs — Jesse Olsen Bay, Paul Cox, Jessica Ivory, Mark Hart, Joe Kennedy and Dina Maccabee among others. The resulting sophistication and complexity makes this an album to listen to with headphones on and eyes closed because it takes you to other worlds – the ones just over the Pacific horizon and deep in your mind and your heart.
The album opens with “Siren”. A song familiar to live concert goers for its use of bird sounds (created by cellphones in the parking garage) and its and Bret’s vocals which manage to be deeply emotional and matter-of-fact simultaneously while ramping up the urgency throughout the song. The title song, “Golden Shores” brings us even father out to the horizon with a bassline over a web of distant echoes that fade and rise as vocal harmonies swirl. The harmonies move slowly at first but gather power, carried by Goodfellow’s percussion until a sundown of sound leaves us standing on the shore.
The tempo picks up and the tone changes radically with brass and pop-like vocals in “For Me For You” , still bracket by a background of shimmering vocals – like a rainbow river bubbling down to the golden shore of the ocean. The pop feel continues with “Sea of Light”, one of the most hooky songs in the album – hooky, but never far away from the sonic, dreamy horizon. My favorite song follows, “More Machine than Man”, which starts up with a mechanical throbbing motor sound scaffolding Bret’s story-telling voice. As Goodfellow’s powerfully timed drum beats and the vocal harmonies redline, the song stops, re-gears and then launches again higher, stronger, more urgent than ever. When it is over, you wipe off the sweat, but not the grin.
Fortunately the band picks you up and lets you happily relax with stories in “Crops”, “Luck of the Sailor” and “Any Day of the Week” with only occasional forays into the urgent storms of “Siren”. “From the Bower” starts slow and magical — Hool’s voice seeming to come out of a mysterious tunnel, which it sometime does takes you back into a dream. While you are floating on notes, the album slides into a beloved We Are The West standard, “The Watchers”, which will delight their live followers and enchant new fans, although nothing can replace the live version in the parking garage. The band wraps the album with a new, gently rocking, guitar-led song “Tonight’s Tonight” with Hool’s vocals at their most plaintively hopeful.
Fans will love this album, although they will miss Goodfellow’s peregrinating drum and chine solos that so energize their concert. But they really are there, undergirding vocal rushes on many of the album’s cuts. The sophisticated percussion she is beloved for is especially present in last minute of title track underneath the ethereal crescendo, demanding that you listen even more carefully.
Put The Golden Shore on the top of your headphones-and-eyes-closed play list and it will become a frequent and welcome sonic refuge.