Napalm Springs

Butterfly Jones

Vanguard Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Brit-rock isn't dead, it's just moved to California.

I overstate but little. Butterfly Jones, the new project from Michael Gurley and Phil Leavitt from seminal modern rock band dada, sounds so much like the mid-sixties Rolling Stones I expect one of them to get arrested for smoking hash with Marianne Faithful. Along with a plethora of guest musicians including members of Venice, Soul Coughing and Mary's Danish, as well as a world champion surfer, these Jones boys have turned out an album of catchy, insightful, melodic, and delightful pop-rock on their first release, Napalm Springs.

Pop is one of the hardest genres to do well, because so many people do it badly. (N'Sync, take notes here, if your handlers will let you have pen and paper.) Butterfly Jones has an effortless groove reminiscent of the Beatles or Barenaked Ladies; it doesn't sound hard for them to do what they do. Despite complex, rich lyrics and harmonies, they still sound like they're a bunch of guys in a garage having fun. Musically, they're tight and competent you can tell Gurley and Leavitt have been playing together for more than ten years. While there's some experimentation on the CD - a moog here, variant percussion here, and a couple of sweet string sections - this is mostly about songwriting, harmony, and a couple of guys with a guitar and a drum set.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The production is minimalist, which in this case is perfect - no weird effects or distortion save what was played on a guitar effects pedal. The sound is crisp and well mixed, and the songs are brought to the forefront, which is as it should be. And oh, the songs. These are some good songs. "Suicide Bridge", "Anywhere But Now", "Alright" and "Are We In Love Again" are four of the best pop songs I've ever heard. Occasional wandering into outright Brit-pop homage work relatively well, though "Sunshine And Ecstasy" (Michael Gurley describes this track as "The Who and the Association meet at a Las Vegas rave", and that's more apt than anything I could come up with) works better than "When People Are Mean". "Sophie" is an acquired taste; while it's a gorgeous ballad, there's a slight edge to it that borders on mawkishness. The best track by far, however, is "The Systematic Dumbing Down Of Terry Constance Jones", a bitterly funny about a bright little girl who grew up very, very badly. It makes you laugh. Then it makes you think. Then it makes you cry. Then it makes you laugh again.

If there's a complaint about Napalm Springs, it's that it might be a track or two too long. The CD loses a little steam around "It's Cool Dude", and never quite picks back up. Had it been my decision, I would have ended the CD at "Terry Constance Jones"; anything after it was anticlimactic, anyway.

Napalm Springs is very likely to end up on this year's Top Ten list; smart, well-performed pop is as rare as an honest politician. Run, don't walk, and grab this one today.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Vanguard Records, and is used for informational purposes only.