The call goes out, a harmonious chorus: "Su-un-nn." One word, one voice but it sounds like more, much more. You picture a communion of voices on a distant shoreline. And this word "Su-un-nn" greets you like a sunny summer day, a day you wish would last forever.
What follows is an energetic guitar line that sounds like someone gargling mouthwash. Alone, it would fall flat, but in this context it works. Power chords bring up the rear, running rampant up and down the neck of the guitar in both ascending and descending patterns. A snare is hit, full throttle. And the totality of what you are hearing is beautiful. In this moment, it's perfect.
Welcome to the aural nebula that is Bill Doss and the Sunshine Fix.
That song is the title track from the Sunshine Fix's debut LP, Age of the Sun. It continues with a sharp blend of sugar-tooth pop and entrancing psychedelia, staples of the Doss sound and concept.
Before the Sunshine Fix, there was Olivia Tremor Control, the lo-fi outfit that paired Doss with Will C. Hart. During OTC's eight-year evolution, in albums, EPs and split singles, Doss and Hart created songs that valiantly attempted to bridge the gap between Revolver-era Beatles and, say, Sonic Youth. Along with their music, their enthusiasm and involvement with the Elephant 6 label/collective (which also includes Neutral Milk Hotel, the Apples in Stereo and Beulah) helped gain OTC a cult following. As breakup rumors traversed the grapevine (or at least the Net) in 2000, it was announced that OTC had taken an extended hiatus. Which led to Doss's new outfit, the Sunshine Fix, and Hart's new band, Circulatory System.
Doss on his own delivers a more controlled sound that recognizes quality over quantity without falling off the deep end of electro-dabbling, a fault that plagued some of OTC's later recordings. The result is clear, concise and powerful. Age of the Sun benefits from the contributions of Derek Almstead and Jamie Huggins (both from Of Montreal) and Neil Cleary of Essex Green, all currently part of Elephant 6's extended family.
"That Ole Sun," one of the album's standout tracks, was first released as a teaser 7-inch in December of 2001. Constructed around a three-note bass line, hypnotic drum loop and an inspired chorus of minor chords and hand claps, the track marries the airy feel of Beck's "Tropicalia" (from his '98 release, Mutations), and the blinding presence of The Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows" (off Revolver, of course). Its drastic changes of character are a pleasant dose of creative schizophrenia.
Lyrically, Doss toes a line of half-hearted cynicism as he muses, "Everybody says the world can be too much and sometimes I agree/ Sometimes I feel the weight of that same world coming down on me."
Seconds later, he searches for the couplet's silver lining: "... Then I awake to find that old sun's come up anyway/ Just can't, just can't wait till the sunlight falls below."
"Everything Is Waking," with its double-tracked vocals and jangly acoustic guitar, is reminiscent of one of John Lennon's brooding diatribes. The verses are structured around terse, grim statements. Early on in the song, Doss whines "Everything is dying" while in the background a haunting chorus chants "you try to reach the sun you're laughed at." But as the song progresses, a shift occurs. The guitar chords become lighter in tone and texture, and the backbeat follows suit, shedding its death-march rhythm. The snare begins to snap and the lyrics brighten as Doss sings, "Waking up/ To a new day/ The rain has gone and the sun is here to stay." This is Doss at his best, his words and fragile voice delivering a message artfully. In this case, the point he's making seems clear: Try. Live. It's worth it.
Less successful are brief 30- to 45-second interludes whose purpose appears to be to clear the way for the next full-blown song. At first this works. But when the same string-section feedback heard in "Ultraviolet Orchestra" is employed on "An Illuminated Array," and once more during "Inside the Nebula," the convention becomes tiresome. Redundancy also sabotages the album closer, "Le Roi-Soleil," in which the same one-word chorus that begins the album is used again only this time it lasts for nearly 20 minutes.
With the Sunshine Fix, it's clear that Bill Doss is continuing to make wonderful music, carrying on the tradition of Olivia Tremor Control yet moving forward creatively. His new music is accessible yet deep; his melodies are catchy yet substantial. And he has something to say. The music found on Age of the Sun is spine-tingling, heartbreaking and simply majestic.