During the first quarter of 2023, Australian band The Summertimes introduced themselves via a pair of very enjoyable singles. Both ‘The Perfect Wave’ and ‘Inside’ did a great job of selling the still new band’s power pop/guitar based sound, and on the former, a slice of surf rock embellished a very strong jangle, suggesting that these guys could be capable of a whole range of retro sounds.
For those listeners who got on board early enough to enjoy those tracks, this self-titled debut LP certainly won’t disappoint. When heard as part of a bigger package, those singles sound even better. ‘Inside’ – used to open a brilliant long player – kicks off everything with a busy rhythm overlaid by a massive, crashy guitar sound, instantly advertising some strongly arranged retro rock pop. The power pop heart beats furiously throughout a busy verse, sharing influences from bands like The Flamin’ Groovies and fellow Aussies Rinehearts, but it’s great to hear a different kind of 60s jangle filling the bridges between the main riff. Here, it’s actually possible to hear the faintest echoes of The Jam circa ‘All Mod Cons’ adding to an already great mix. It’s not just about the music, of course, and this introductory number also shares a strong vocal throughout, which also isn’t shy in hinting at a love for mid 60s fare. In short, if you’re looking for tightly played, trad sounding power pop, this track more than fits the remit and leads this self-titled disc with best foot forward, musically speaking.
‘The Perfect Wave’ also shares a superb retro sound, never shy in pushing the guitars to the fore, or latching on to a great rhythm. With the heart of a great surf number colliding with some strong garage rock tones, it’s very different to ‘Inside’, but just as catchy in its own way. The bass line pumps furiously throughout, and a hefty guitar twang continues to share some really bright melodies before dropping into a hugely twangy solo. Best of all here, though, is the number’s humorous hat-tip to Midnight Oil, whose early material occasionally worked a similar surf-ish sound. Although the number often takes a surf rock sound very seriously, the vocal actually drops into a perfect Peter Garrett impersonation along the way, which will certainly raise a smile among their many fans. This knowing wink shows a band capable of adding a touch of humour to their musical palate, without lapsing into novelty territory. ‘The Perfect Wave’ deserves to be one of the album’s highlights, but the fact that it isn’t says a great deal about the strength of the other songs.
Delving a little deeper into a great elpee, ‘Password’ shares a slightly louder guitar sound, which is used effectively to boost a riff that’s a cross between old Flamin’ Groovies and The dB’s, again, tapping into a very strong pop sound. It’s the perfect compliment for a vocal that’s offered with a rootsy twang, and a crisp sounding lead guitar which fills a few bars en route. With a pounding drum and punchy bass (the latter supplied by Icehouse man Steve Ball), the shimmering pop-rock is afforded a very strong rhythmic core, but no matter how punchy Ball’s work gets, it never dominates the pop-ish flair, and a choppy, mod friendly chorus provides these three minutes with a musical highlight. ‘Sky & The Sea’ – another standout track – works a brilliant ringing guitar throughout, echoing classic works by Teenage Fanclub and other melodic bands on the fringes of Britpop. It might be the Antipodean angle, but there’s also a hint of classic Neil Finn lurking beneath the surface. It’s one of those tunes that’s great from the outset, but by the time the climax is reached, a brilliantly applied countermelody from the backing vocal harmonies creates a strong, feel good hook. In short, this is finely crafted pop that shows The Summertimes’ sound to have a timeless quality.
Elsewhere, ‘My Beautiful Girl Harbour’ recycles a lot of the band’s beloved 60s power pop melodies and moods, but leans a little further towards the poppier end of the Gigolo Aunts’ work, but anything that feels over-familiar still retains a massive sparkle. Balancing out the familiar riffs, you’ll find some great harmony vocals and an insanely infectious wordless hook, coming close to power pop perfection. ‘Love (It’s The Word)’, meanwhile, makes no secret of either a mid 60s Beatles sound – the shimmering guitar riffs come straight from the ‘Ticket To Ride’ school – or The La’s recycling of old 60s pop. That said, these very retro elements are counterbalanced by a rockier chorus where more mod-ish rhythms add a great punch, before a world of la-la’s prove that the catchy core within ‘Girl Harbour’ was no fluke.
An easy standout, ‘Wakes Up Shadows’ takes the band’s power pop and applies a slight Americana twang, which allows for a great counter melody from a thin sounding lead guitar. The influences might well come from bands like The Connells, but that’s not to say the 60s vibes and classic power pop are ever sidelined here, though. Musically, the middle of the number really excels in that department. Here, the ringing guitars rise up to share a very immediate melody when a circular riff sounds like a throwback to mid nineties Teenage Fanclub and some of the more commercial Church material circa ‘Gold Afternoon Fix’, with everything recycled in the most appealing way. Between a really uplifting melody, a wordy lyric and – latterly – a strong backing vocal used as a counter harmony, this is a number with a bit of everything that classic, retro sounding rock/pop needs, showing off The Summertimes’ talents in a near timeless way. If the brilliant backing vocals and hefty pop melody don’t win you over after a few listens, it’s safe to say that nothing will, and maybe The Summertimes aren’t for you…
As previously mentioned, the band’s sound can sometimes be very knowing with its throwback nature, and never more is this the case than on ‘Athens, GA’, a number that – more than fittingly – carries echoes of early REM. Across three minutes, the guitars jangle with abandon, occasionally dropping into something that wouldn’t necessarily feel out of place on ‘Reconstruction of The Fables’. A massive power pop riff from the 80s would be enough to make such a track fly, but this homage has far more going for it than that. Beneath the sunny surface, there’s some unexpectedly complex flourishes, and the band drop a decent, 60s derived guitar solo, a few organ swirls and, perhaps best of all, an unexpected muted trumpet to flesh out a joyous coda.
This is a seriously good record. It has all of the uplift of a fine power pop past, and a solid approach to songwriting that ensures the material stands up well in the present. Armed with some great riffs and even better choruses, there are no weak links; even without needing to add any new twists to an established sound, The Summertimes’ songs more than hold their own. There are plenty of times when the material sounds like an obvious homage to other melodic rock/pop bands, but this in itself adds to the overall strength of the record. By often sounding like something you’ve always known and loved, this debut has the makings of genre classic. Miss this, and you’ll be missing out on one of the best power pop records of ’23.