My brother takes great delight in pointing out, much to my dismay, that I get dangerously addicted to certain words; I overuse them, I run their impact into the ground and inevitably I make him detest the sound, even the slightest whisper of a syllable, of said words. During middle school, the words were “banal,” “void” and “dominion.” Through high school, they were “lament,” other ornate words suggesting despondency and “Narf,” as in, “What are we going to do tonight, Brain? Narf!” Through college, the repetitive words varied more often, but had my brother hung around me enough, he’d probably have come to hate “juxtaposition,” “kitsch,” the prefixes “semi-” and “pseudo-” and the use of “-esque,” “-ian” or “-like” following any proper noun.
Now that I’ve graduated college and my brother recently reminded me of my bad habit, I’ve noticed the overuse of yet another word. That word is “quirky.” It’s not like I’ve never used the word before, but it seems that now it’s unavoidable, this “quirky.” The movies, music and books I like tend to be quirky. The people I like hanging out with tend to be quirky; they say quirky things and have quirky hobbies, they also have quirky habits and they too use the word “quirky” to describe the movies, music and books they like.
Which brings me to A.M. Sixty. Yes, A.M. Sixty’s debut album Big as the Sky is quirky.
Take the quirky “Bus.” What other word could one use to describe a song with Chris Root’s nasally, almost adolescent-sounding voice scatting — “sceeba-da-doo-dwee doop” — over quaint, quiet, semi-tropical music before asking, “When was the last time you stopped and smelled the fucking flowers“? The question is followed by an invitation to have a lengthy relaxing shower with Root for hours and hours. Or take the equally quirky opening song “Summertime Girlfriend,” which boasts the quirky lyric “I dedicate my life to her tan lines.” It’s the type of breezy pop with wispy, sigh-like backing vocals you’d expect at a poolside party populated by the casts of Our Man Flint and Casino Royale.
Root, who also heads the similarly Ipaneman outfit The Mosquitos with Big as the Sky co-producer Jon Marshall Smith, has put together a catchy pop album recalling summer days, wacky bossa nova and bright colored umbrella drinks served from a bungalow.
The album is at its most playful on songs like the title track “Big as the Sky,” with its bleating, synthy sax; the flighty and lyrically quirky “Melodic Flow”; or “Tonite’s the Nite,” a hand-clapping ditty about a couple having sex for the first time. Over a series of naïve reassurances, warm melodic sighs and nervously phrased promises, Root and his dainty female counterpart sing optimistically, “Tonite’s, the night, baby, that we’re gonna spread our wings and fly.” There’s something about that line that seems to encapsulate every teen’s thoughts about their first time before it even happens.
Even with the fun-filled goofiness of the above, As Big as the Sky isn’t all quirky, well-tanned fun in the sun. The shimmering “She Follows the Sun” is a brief, bittersweet yet inescapably catchy tale love of unrequited; Root wishing he was the sun so a girl would pay attention to him. The melancholic “Your Stuff, My House,” which feels more like an overcast day than the rest of the warm weather album, follows a dejected narrator who still has some of his ex’s possessions after breaking up. There’s a palpable sense of heartache in Root’s vulnerable voice, the soft, descending synth found throughout the song or those spare, almost Cure-like notes that repeat and trail off by the song’s end. Then there’s the legitimately head-swaying, summery duet “We Belong Together,” describing time spent with that special someone on a beach. The lyrics are pretty simple (“We belong together holding hands, you and me“), but they resemble the type of brief confessions of two people in love, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand while the other hand lingers and draws nameless shapes in the soft white sand.
If my brother read this review, he’d have yet another word to despise. Though if he sat down and listened to Big as the Sky, waded through its crystalline, tropical delights and Root’s sometimes-kitschy-but-always-genuine pop stylings, he’d probably understand why the word “quirky” and why the word’s overuse was necessary. If he doesn’t understand, though, well, then lamentably he never will.
Mosquitos – Mosquitos
The Orange Peels – So Far
Yo La Tengo – Summer Sun