Eyelids, from Portland, Oregon, could lay claim to being the coolest supergroup ever. They’re made up of US indie-rock royalty who’ve played with Guided By Voices, The Decemberists, Stephen Malkmus and Elliott Smith. The band’s core members and songwriters are vocalists and guitarists Chris Slusarenko and John Moen, and they’re joined by Jonathan Drews (guitar), Jim Taltstra (bass) and Paulie Pulvirenti (drums.)
For their fourth album, The Accidental Falls, they’ve teamed up with lyricist and poet Larry Beckett, who collaborated with Tim Buckley in the late ‘60s. Beckett penned the lyrics for one of Buckley’s best-loved recordings – ‘Song to the Siren’.
When Beckett first approached Slusarenko and Moen, they were wary, but, as Moen says, they soon came round to the idea: “It was Larry’s trust in us that really caused us to think we should do it. When someone like that is in into your work to the degree they want to collaborate, it definitely feeds your confidence.”
One of the songs on the record, ‘Found At The Scene of a Rendezvous That Failed’, is actually a Buckley/ Beckett composition that was written in 1966, but unreleased. It’s one of the highlights – piano-led, with chamber-like strings, it sounds like The Zombies circa Odessey and Oracle.
Beckett isn’t the only music legend to lend his talents to this album – R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck is on production duties. Commenting on Buck’s contribution to the record, Slusarenko says: “Peter has always been amazing for us. Having your hero become a friend and collaborator is such a dream and does so much for the band. Even though we’ve been working together for years now, sometimes you look up in the studio and think, ‘Holy s***, we’ve got Peter Buck working on our record!”
Buck also plays on the album – along with Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Neko Case) and Heba Kadry (Deerhunter, Bjork) – and his influence is clear from the onset – first track, the gorgeous, ethereal psych-tinged ballad ‘Dream’ drifts in with chiming, folk-rock guitars that immediately evoke early R.E.M. Its cosmic lyrics by Beckett have a whiff of the far-out ‘60s about them – they mention the Milky Way, constellations and morning stars.
Things seriously ramp-up on the second song, the title track – a life-affirming blast of power-pop, with some deliciously crunchy riffing. In fact, thanks to the presence of three guitarists in the band, the album is laden with some fantastic hooks – it’s a big, shimmering sound.
When it comes to songwriting, Eyelids typically compose the music first and then add the lyrics later, but this time around, with Beckett’s involvement, the band were able to focus on the music, which has bolstered the sound.
‘Insomnia’ also recalls vintage R.E.M. and has a Big Star feel – it’s jangle all the way – while ‘Mermaid Blues’ is an irresistible, soaring pop song with a melancholy undercurrent and a sense of yearning.
Beckett seems to have a preoccupation with water – as well as ‘Mermaid Blues’, there are songs called ‘River’ and ‘At Sea’.
Tim Burgess, front-man with indie veterans The Charlatans, released the first Eyelids record on his label in the UK – and on ‘Starlight (Limelight Machine)’ it sounds like they’re paying tribute to him by aping his vocal style.
The Burgess-like singing crops up again on the stomping ‘1,2,3’. One of the rockier moments on the album, it features an unexpected orchestral mid-section, as well a brilliant shrieking guitar solo in the outro – it’s the sort of track you’d kill to hear an extended live version of. In fact, most of this album would sound great in concert – preferably up close and loud, in a small, sweaty venue.
Things calm down for the final song – a lovely, country-tinged ballad called ‘Passion’, which brings to mind late-period Beatles.
There are some people who would have you believe that good, old-fashioned guitar pop is dead. This is, of course, nonsense – take one listen to The Accidental Falls and you’ll find that it’s alive and well and living in Portland.