America is restless. And in the Golden State of California, the veneer of optimism and unlimited opportunity hides a countryside teetering on the edge of the Pacific. The hillside mansions risk burning in the wildfires while the views from oceanfront properties remind their owners that one tectonic shift will sink it all. Surely the people who built Los Angeles on the desert landscape were aware of the delicate balance of their surroundings, but hope springs eternal. And indeed, LA became a place of dreams realized, even though Mother Nature and the hands of fate often destroyed those dreams.
LA’s SadGirl are acutely aware of that reality, and their analog rock n’ roll has always somehow managed to approximate the relentless optimism of the pioneer spirit, but they’ve also exuded some degree of self-awareness of the anodyne properties of vintage pop. With their new album Water, the Los Angeles trio taps into the romantic and nostalgic spirit of their native city while exuding a time-tested authenticity suggesting that they’ve had a peek behind the curtain of the manicured lawns, glitzy boulevards, and relentless sunshine.
“If you want to learn about water, go to the desert.” It’s a little nugget of wisdom imparted from SadGirl’s recording engineer and friend Max Garland, but it made an impact on guitarist/vocalist Misha Lindes. “Here we are in Los Angeles, a desert, ping-ponging between drought and El Niño. This record is just an attempt to share a very small portion of my experience growing up and living here,” Lindes says about the album. “It’s basically just about the fluidity of water and its power and importance.”
But Water isn’t a musical adaptation of a Frank Herbert novel, it’s a collection of breezy, upbeat pop songs captured with the timbre of old-time recording techniques. Songs like “Little Queenie” touch upon the cadence, yesteryear reverberations, and soulful longing of a Ken Boothe ballad. It’s a song for afternoons in the sun, not reflections on our mortality. Similarly, a classic tormented love song like “Miss Me” nearly transports the listener back to wholesome slow dances at a previous generation’s sock hop, only to be subverted by a chorus of “miss me with that bullshit.” It’s as if guitarist/vocalist Misha Lindes, drummer David Ruiz, and bassist Dakota Peterson want to conjure an idealized past only to remind us of our loss of innocence.
“Chlorine” similarly plays at our emotions, busting out a Sam Cooke-style love song where the muse is equally seductive and poisonous. Much like the reverb and vibrato-drenched instrumental “Hazelnut Coffee”, these upbeat melodies and antiquated sounds seem to reference some earlier era, and would almost feel subservient to some long-gone ideal if they didn’t feel at odds with Los Angeles’ current digital amphetamine pulse. Any accusation that SadGirl’s penchant for classic sounds is rooted in escapism is completely voided by the closing track “Water”, a sparse acoustic song driven by Lindes’ reflective vocals. “It’s about realizing your own mortality and changing nature,” the songwriter notes. “It’s meant to be melancholy but still beautiful in its realization.”
Water was pieced together out of a series of recording sessions from the last two years using a variety of tape machines in a variety of environments—from living rooms to proper studios. Taken as a whole, they capture a band summoning the spirit of their surroundings in all its peaks and valleys. It’s a record steeped in the pop world of the past in order to create a contrast with our modern age. It’s a sugar-coated reminder of what we’ve lost, what we’ve never had, and what we’ll eventually lose.