Muchos Mahalos LP
Reviewed by Brent D. Tharp
The musical landscape is littered with acts that are ubiquitous, and sadly, completely interchangeable. Many also claim some distant but unexplained California nativeness. At the risk of generating skeins of hateful email from the feel-good music crowd, I include John Mayer and several others in the aforementioned categories. Then we have a few artists who have serenaded us with tales of California living from direct experience: the Beach Boys, the Doors, X, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, No Doubt, etc. In this latter group one must include the bad boys of OC and LBC, Sublime. In many ways, Orange County’s Wheeland Brothers are a feel-good incarnation of Sublime, with Beach Boys lightness, Sugar Ray romance, and some Don Ho ukulele thrown in for good measure.
While touching on some of the inner-city grit inherent (and often hidden) in a Southern California upbringing, the Wheeland Brothers traverse the gap from gritty undersurface to sun, from concrete to sand, epitomizing the happy, sunny melancholy dreaminess for which Southern California is famous, envied, and sometimes ridiculed. From a more musically centered perspective, the brothers have nurtured a sound that is instantly recognizable but uniquely their own, mostly the result of strong songwriting. To stand out in such a way is no small feat for a band living within spitting distance of the City of Angels.
“Lovin’ on Time” is a straightforward California beach reggae song about that interesting juxtaposition that occurs when we commit to meeting life’s obligations while also maximizing the good loving that we expect should come with it. It’s fast, with some seriously great synthesizer work, and a tight, tough lead vocal. “Like You Do” is another song about love and finding the one for each of us. If not listening for song gaps, one could mistake it for a continuation of Track 1, the only real change being that the time signature is slightly slower and the backing instrumentation is elevated.
“Hideaway,” however, will not be mistaken for a continuation of the first two tracks of the album, or for any other track. It’s a track about finding oneself, and needing the space to do that. It’s also about the social obligations that have to be put on hold to allow introspection to happen, and how far one is willing to go for self-discovery. From that standpoint, it’s perhaps the best representation of the Wheeland Brothers’s unique style and lyrical content. For tone, rather than lyrics, this one made me think of the song “Smack My Bitch Up” by The Prodigy, for what that’s worth.
“Beans & Rice” is a much more traditional reggae song, with calypso drumming and backing vocals, including extensive reverb, that we’ve come to expect from most reggae artists. It differentiates itself with lyrics that transport one to a California beach in mid-summer. “No Real Reason” has some similarities to “Beans & Rice” but with a harder edge that will sound familiar to Sublime fans, including a ripping guitar part and some down-and-dirty vocals, even when the lyrics themselves are not dirty at all. As an aside, the Wheeland Brothers’s music is quite family-friendly, even when the CD has an explicit lyrics sticker—such lyrics are infrequent and hard to find without extensive listening.
“Run River Run” is the best cut on the album, in this reviewer’s opinion (followed closely by “Hideaway”). It captures Southern California’s whimsical reality and the loves and losses of its many dreamers in a way not achieved by most other artists, despite their efforts to do so. The vocals and ukulele dominate this tune, but both are positives, as they are flawless throughout. “This Time of Night” is a nice little tune about letting loose, dancing in public, dancing in private, or simply, just dancing wherever you are. Not surprisingly, it’s a good tune to dance to, with some pretty serious bongo playing in the background (or muted snares—I’m not some musical expert).
“We Could Sail” is a ballad with a definite Don Ho sound, lilting with ukuleles in the front. As many have wished with Don Ho songs, only to be left in the lurch, this track is but 45 seconds long. In this case that’s a bit of a tearful situation, but is redeemed by the next track, “Settle for the Sunrise,” a ditty about surfing, beach bonfires, Nerf guns, and such. It’s a slow builder, heavily layered, and exceptionally well written. This may become a favorite Wheeland Brothers song for many listeners. The closer, “Slack Key Jam,” is a slow ballad with some nice acoustic playing and apparently no remixing. The grittiness and authenticity of the track is a welcome change from so much of the overproduced glam that’s out there these days—the same could be said of the entire album.
If you love yo’ music SoCal and indie, with some beach-fire smoke, smart lyrics, and understated but exceptional musicianship, then Wheeland Brothers are for you. Their prior (and first) album, Toast to the Coast, is slightly grittier and harder, but in either case, there’s a bit here for everyone. For your Memorial Day barbecue or summer pool party, you can’t go wrong with any tracks from these Southern California songwriting siblings.
Muchos Mahalos track list *
1. Lovin’ on Time 3:41
2. Like You Do 3:41
3. Hideaway 3:48
4. Beans & Rice 3:44
5. No Real Reason 3:25
6. Run River Run 3:48
7. This Time of Night 3:34
8. We Could Sail 0:45
9. Settle for the Sunrise 4:22
10. Slack Key Jam 3:07
Total track time: 33:55 *
* Track times shown are from the physical CD, and may vary from those of other sources. The full album on iTunes includes the title track as a bonus track (11)—not reviewed here.
Players: Travis Wheeland—vocals, guitar; “Nate Frogg” Wheeland—vocals, guitar, ukulele; Marcus Agundes—bass; Mike Jimenez—drums.
Production: Independently produced. All tracks except “We Could Sail” and “Slack Key Jam” produced by Jon Berry. “We Could Sail” and “Slack Key Jam” produced by Travis Wheeland. Assistant engineer: Ryan Nielson.
Management: Thomas Cussins and Jamie Wagner—firstname.lastname@example.org
Booking: Thomas Cussins, Ineffable Music Group—email@example.com, www.ineffablemusic.com
Other: Released July 2013. All lyrics by Nathan and Travis Wheeland. Additional band information available at www.wheelandbrothers.com.