On the cover of The Mother Hips’ latest album, Pacific Dust, there’s a painting of a large group of people cordially interacting, some of them painting what can only be assumed to be the Pacific Ocean. This seems fitting for music that immediately conjures thoughts of a golden age in American culture and music: a time when masses of humanity set out on a pilgrimage to the west, called by the promise of new beginnings in makeshift hippie utopias. And though dripping with overtones from the ’60s and ’70s, there remains enough about Pacific Dust that’s rooted in the now, in the sonic tapestry of 2009, that may turn this album—the band’s seventh full length—into its break-through effort.
Throughout the 11 songs, the Mother Hips walk a line between new and old, now and then, capably melding sound elements from today with those of yesteryear. Album opener “White Falcon Fuzz,” could be straight off of a Weezer album, right down to the fuzzed out distortion coloring an awkwardly optimistic chord progression. But its softly slung lyrics and Jimmy Page-like riffing add enough dimensions to make the song a uniquely Mother Hips’ contraption. The same blend of contemporary and classic gets used again in “Jess OXOX,” a saccharin sweet love ballad that could easily share the stage with Fleetwood Mac or Dinosaur Jr.. “Third Floor Story” is the most deliberate in its efforts to recapture the age of classic rock, with angular, projecting guitar riffs that heavily share DNA with Lenny Kravitz’s sound and intent.
But more then their interesting experimentation with eras of sound, at the core of the Mother Hips are very well written songs so easy on the ear, they demand listening. Mid-album, the infectious ease of “One Way Out,” “Lion And The Bull,” and “All in Favor” compel a mindscape of sitting on a warm Cali beach, watching the waves slowly rolling in and out with no particular place to be, and no particular desire to be there. And yet, the deceptively simplistic song structures hide an overall instrumental virtuosity that resoundingly makes a comeback on “Pacific Dust.” Coy guitar licks informed by Robbie Robertson and powerful drumming a la Levon Helm, function to earn this song its rightful role as the title track, and the group rightful comparisons to The Band.
Founders Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono have been at this for two decades. In that time they’ve released numerous albums, and have become practiced at the art of writing irresistibly catchy tunes. Moreover, their vocal flexibility is remarkable, with neither faltering whether in need of a raging growl, or dulcet croon fit for lullaby. But even with so many formulas of success being used, Pacific Dust never feels formulaic. That is to say, there’s never a sense that the band employs gimmicks in their efforts to meld their contemporary sound with classic rock elements. Rather, it all takes place with a natural ease reminiscent of fellow time machines, the Black Keys and the White Stripes. But I suspect what’s much more important to the Mother Hips is that their music puts a smile on your face, which it will do quite often.