Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
The Retroliners - Surf Avenuedotdotdot
artworkThe Retroliners always seem to me to be a band stuck between potential and delivery. Some very nice writing is often held back by uncomplimentary production and unsympathetic rhythm. What's interesting to me with this release is the realization that the thing that doesn't work for me in the Retroliners recordings is the mix and lack of chemistry. Guitar and bass panned off center, detracting from the lead guitar's role as voice. From an arrangement point of view, all of the songs are a little too unchanging, which gets in the way of some very good melodies and playing.
Picks: Planet Fear, Tango With Death, Surf Avenue, Capsized, Erica, Lounge Act, Land Shark, Doyers St., Rumble In The Stratosphere 2002, Dr. Yes, Pipeline, Runaway, Downshift, Harlem By The Sea, Underneath The Bunker, Shake Some Evil, Midnight Cowboy (Interlude), Walk Don't Run

Track by Track Review

Planet Fear dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Sultry vibrato leads to a moody song. What's interesting to me is the realization that the thing that doesn't work for me in the Retroliners recordings is the drums. They always seem at odds with the music, making even very nice compositions like this seem uncomfortable.

Tango With Death dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

The main thing here is the gentle merger between tango and spy. The melody idea is very nice, and the gentle energy seems to have a lovely flow about it.

Surf Avenue dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Mostly circulating lines and busy toms image in palms and lagoons. I half expected "Surf Avenue" to be based on Blue Avenue (the Beacon Street Union), but alas it's a very nicely written original with relatively coastal sound and summery feel.

Capsized dotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Capsized" is a rainy day kind of melody. It's a little sad and feels like you don't want to go outside. Maybe that's because the rain is gently falling as I write this, or maybe because of the subtle optimism that peaks out from under the ambient wash.

Erica dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This is a slow and pretty song with a chorded progression leading the way. It reminds me a bit of a British Invasion ballad with a sunny disposition.

Lounge Act dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

With much more flair than the title might suggest, this rock instro seems a little too riffy, yet has the sense abut it that it might rock live. Distortion, harsh tone, and a few stage licks add to that perception.

Land Shark dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Imagine tribal warriors hunting you down on skateboards in an alley. This is sort of a West Side Story like rumble precursor. It has real potential to be a huge track with more fire in the production.

Doyers St. dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

A sullen address on a rainy afternoon, a reason to go without a means, a film score sound, and no reason to be optimistic. The effect is stark.

Rumble In The Stratosphere 2002 dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

A minimal tune with a rhythmic gentle backtrack, and Link Wray-like sparsely placed lead guitar notes. This works really well. It doesn't change much, but the vibrating shimmer is most endearing, and the happy melody worms it's way into your being. Very nice track.

Dr. Yes dotdotdot
Detective Spy (Instrumental)

Dry and angular, the Supertones' "Dr. Yes" is a little haunting and sports compressed drums. A detective instro with spy lines from the dry and raw side of the tracks.

Pipeline dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

A slow and dirty bass introduces "Pipeline" to the Retroliners as if it is to be a huge monster, but it comes in like a dirty pussycat trying really hard to be nonchalant. Very much rock combo. The song seems rough and unfinished.

Runaway dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Big chords suggest a huge journey is about to begin. Del Shannon's "Runaway" is a pretty good vehicle for the Retroliners to illustrate their on-stage prowess with. It's a little one-dimensional, but still quite enjoyable.

Downshift dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Harsh rock guitar tone and tuff drums power "Downshift." It's a little one dimensional, but still quite nice. This is completely different than the studio take off of their first CD.

Harlem By The Sea dotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Fading in from noodling tuning (why wasn't that trimmed off the track?), this all too quick version of Earl Hagen's "Harlem By Sea" romps with more flair and style than just about anything else here. Very fun!

Underneath The Bunker dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This is a somewhat exotic melody with a desert intrigue sound. Quite cool, though the dirty guitar is too far off and cannot compete with the rhythm section.

Shake Some Evil dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Fuzzy bass, distorted guitar with big whammy chords, and slow deliberate drums create a sinister image. Imagine a budding Link Wray intro waiting to get out to play with its friends. The mix is uncomplimentary, with bass right and guitar left.

Midnight Cowboy (Interlude) dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This one-minute liberation from the film score is very pretty and deserves a full workout. Its fade out is premature, making me want more.

Walk Don't Run dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Johnny Smith's signature song is rocked in a very familiar fashion, much like a lot of club bands have done over the eons since its writing. There's nothing really original here, though the wash of ambiance via reverb adds a little uniqueness while downplaying its power.