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The Orange Peels | So Far (SpinART)
Lo-fi production is an aesthetic decision for some, but for the songs of Allen Clapp it was a necessity worn like Grace Kelly in a tramp's vest. In the fallow years after the release of the 1994 gold-standard classic of DIY indie pop 100% Chance of Rain, he expanded beyond the solo four track frippery of Allen Clapp and his Orchestra, rounding up a quartet of like-minds to form The Orange Peels. Released in Japan last summer, their second album So Far is another glossily melodic confection to follow-up their '98 debut Square. With its perky, self-conscious 'California Sound'- equal parts Wilson and Bacharach (with footnotes to almost any classic songwriter you care to mention)- the spin the band put on So Far seems like a tongue-in-cheek musical paean to the low-maintenance postwar years of prosperity and polyester, with accompanying press shots in which they pose like extras on call for a Doris Day/Rock Hudson film. But like a Quaalude popping housewife, Clapp has skeletons in his day-glo cupboard and these songs- or at least Clapp's occasionally barbed lyrics- aren't as sunny as they might have you believe. "It's the middle of March but it feels just like summer / and I wouldn't call that a California bummer," he sweetly taunts on the record's title track, as the pounding tom toms and reverb-flavoured guitar jangle conjures up the ghosts of a thousand surf rock bands, later adding, "and when I close my eyes I can see into the future / but I'm really not sure if it's gonna include you." His sometimes brazen declarations have enough campness to them, perhaps by virtue of their resiliently chipper setting, that even when being barefaced about the messy aftermath of ill-starred romance he's no less playful than an excitable child. Recorded during a period of flux for The Orange Peels, Clapp and bassist Jill Pries remain the only consistent members on So Far, the others either partially absent or role swapping. When guitarist Larry Winther was on the verge of bailing out on the band, Clapp penned the heartfelt You're So Clever as an appeal to him to rethink. Like a plea from the doghouse to a discontented lover, Clapp implores, "Don't walk away, won't you stay? / You know I love the way you say / things I could never / You're so clever." Winther obviously found this coded ego fluffing as irresistible as the rest of us, recanting his decision and staying with the band to complete So Far, an album of brisk pop that's as familiar and infectious as 'flu.

Martin Williams
June-July 2001