Best of 2010 | Trevor Menear – Some Kind of Sunshine

By Andy Whorehall

(Read an abbreviated list of year end Whorehall favorites with the rest of the Sock Monkey Sound podcast staff, click here.)

width=295Best of 2010
This year’s recap & best of list came with a few edits—about 4,000+ words were cut. (You’re welcome.) One major gut check was performed when my favorite record of 2010 was finally self-released (digitally) in late December by an artist I was unaware of til the late summer/early fall of 2010.  He was seeking art direction for a record just completed and offered a link to Some Kind Of Sunshine.  I followed the link before I even replied to him, seeking a little more understanding behind the stranger in my email box. Rarely am I destroyed by a stranger’s music, let alone what could easily be tossed off as modern ‘blues’ if you’re not listening close enough and reading questionable PR beforehand online. I was convinced there was a prank being played on these ears the first few listens.  It wasn’t a prank though, it was a modest reaffirmation in the power of great music regardless of genres & presumptions. It would easily become my most enjoyable, rewarding listen of 2010.
Trevor Menear’s Some Kind of Sunshine.

Destroyed & equally energized by its musical versatility, it’s a young songwriter’s coming of age. Bold singer-songwriter classism dressed up in nasty guitar tones & jazz drum/percussion from the get go. The songs are as soulful, confident and complete as anything I’d heard from a male singer-songwriter in very long time. The guitar playing something from another planet; emotional, raw, smooth, brutal, jazz, punk rock, folk, r&b and blues all melting together. Tasty.  Sexy. Science for the soul. I didn’t know of the artist or his music then but I needed to know more about Trevor Menear and how he got to what is Some Kind of Sunshine.

There’s John Sinclair, a John Lennon cover song, on a Darfur tribute record Warner Brothers put out rang a bell and that was it.  I learned Menear cut ‘Sinclair’ straight to 78 for the tribute compilation he was approached to partake in. Those unaware of what that means; recorded it 1 take straight to vinyl, old school. Menear’s obvious love & knowledge of the jam-band blues rock genre pigeonholed him out of the gate on his first full length, Introducing Trevor Menear, released in 2008. Hints of great songwriting, vocals, guitar playing are prevalent but there’s a subtle song title tip on that debut’s closer that there’s something more to this kid’s guitar slinging, playing and composing than what you were led to believe for the first 12 songs before the closer,Monk’s Intermission. It’s a fine debut but it doesn’t quite connect the dots to 2010’s Some Kind of Sunshine.

Digging further I found Boots for Alice, an e.p. released in 2009.  Two songs buried smack dab in the middle of a 5 song in-betweener; Meet Me In The Sea and Love Song.  The goods. Pop, soul, the kid is finding his voice and a new musical road that better suits whatever it is he’s seeking for his sophomore record.  A bit of soul science starts to expose itself in Menear’s writing, composing. Needing just a little more understanding where ‘Sunshine’ came from I learned that Menear’s musical roots are midwestern deep come to find out; Grand Rapids, MI to Chicago to L.A. All leading up to this.

width=300‘Some Kind of Sunshine’ is quite the grand independent statement for a relatively unknown artist not backed by a label. Another recorded example on how the industry has changed.  Labels can’t seem to keep up with great records being made everyday.  Regardless of an ever-changing business model, artists mold with it and businesses generally lag into it or fight the change til their own financial collapse.  It’d be a shame to say in one year’s time that Some Kind of Sunshine wasn’t getting a little backing to help distribute a great record into the hands & ears of more strangers who love intelligent pop music.

The swamp solo that opens up River Blues opens up ‘Sunshine’- it is the only indication you’re about to listen to a deceptive blues record by a gifted, young, deceptive songwriter. A slithering snake of an evil intro, a foil for what the record does indeed become, soul science. Whatever your pretensions are about the blues, how it’s been recorded and abused the past 20-30 years by pop musicians pretending to be blues artists, Menear lights them all up on fire with repeated listens of ‘Sunshine.’

Make Me Howl, and Answer Me are ready made, delicious, thrusting, humping indie blues pop songs. Imagine The Black Keys hired the ‘Lips (minus Wayne Coyne) to make perfect pop songs. The percussion peeks up in the mix loud and bright, often battling Menear’s playing like a boxer, stepping up and back. All performers in control, the guitar tones are the winners here, especially on Howl, but the songs are the real prize here. Menear shows off smart, original, intelligent, rock, pop songs that are unafraid of mass appeal- and still worthy of artistic appreciation. Rarely are the results as grand, successful & tasteful as they are throughout Some Kind of Sunshine.

Big Wig is the last of the first four ‘I’m gonna fool you with some radio ready pop-rock song’ foils. It’s a musician’s song disguised as a rock radio ready jam band hit; reggae rhythm, jam band chorus & a heavy breakdown into a nasty, glam-skronk guitar solo. An explosive punk jazz drum freakout by Nate Wood, the album’s secret weapon along with Menear’s co-producer, Billy Mohler.  Wood almost robs Menear of his own controlled freakout. It’s obvious this record wasn’t made by amateurs, rather, classically trained, self-disciplined perfectionists knowing when to release and restrain, step up and back. Mohler & Menear showing off the perfect boxing etiquette on the record’s production & performances throughout.

width=200

Billy

After seeing the credits as to who wrote, produced, performed on this beautiful album, I understood further this young artist’s ambition and the great results he achieved. Some Kind of Sunshine became a new color with each listen as each song exposed parts I missed the first 182 listens. Some session players having performed with great artists or recorded on a few of my favorite all time records: Greg Leisz (Being There by Wilco), Richard Dodd (Johnny Cash, Kanye West), and many more. Billy Mohler, the record’s co-producer & multi-instumentalist may be the most important piece of this production with Menear but Nate Wood all but steals the show. His punk-jazz drum freak out on the instrumental, Plates, the second to last song is exactly how I’ve imagined every dream drum solo should sound on a pop record soundtracking my happiest, unlikely dreams. Imagine the Flaming Lips’ Steven Droyzd merging on a bitches brew spirit doin’ a slow-burn-steady-rise-boom-drop-and-step-drum be-bop jazz freak out. Whatever that mean just listen, it’s how it makes me feel — a volcano rising-machine-gun-blasting and… crash.  Wood’s playing is as classically controlled as it is uninhibited.  Billy Mohler’s production work with Menear capturing these emotional performances, each one trumping each other on Some Kind of Sunshine should make him the busiest man in music come 2011.

Plates is the record’s only instrumental; fleshed with towering jazz percussion and a slow build musical exploration by the band that could be laughable in the hands of mainsteam rock mortals. In the hands of Trevor Menear and his band, incredible session players, they sound like the indie-jazz-rock-blues gods others wish to be but can’t hold a flame to. It drops into the album’s last song which relies on Menear’s vocal and finger picking. November (A Long Way From Here). Menear on an acoustic, alone, nodding a hat to McCartney’s Blackbird as it may have been interpreted by John Fahey or Nick Drake, being sung to the midwest from a far away place- to a long lost love. Despite a west coast production, the midwest serves as his influence, backbone, roots and musical coming of age on Some Kind of Sunshine.

Alright, Alright

A masterful pop song that is the heart and soul of this album.  Tipping it’s hat to soul, R&B, rock, country in one sitting, The Band’ would be proud.  The horns, slide guitar, organ, bass & drums all so smooth, all soul. Here’s Menear droppin’ science:  The first 75% of the song is guitar free- Trevor’s weapon throughout the record. It takes a backseat on Alright, Alright til the end after a smooth bass only bridge.  Right when it should continue for another 1 minute or so, selflessly, he gives it back to the horn section like a great band leader. The mark of a classic conductor. It’s the centerpiece song on a career defining, coming of age record that’s as diverse as this great young composer’s musical palette.

Lyrically matching the music step for step, each word is sung as perfectly as each performer’s instrument on every note and beat.

I’ve grown to love your innocence but I dig the darker shades, did you….
they’re all fools so wave away and let em crash behind,
set your flowers on the dash
sleep above the echoes and the broken glass
let this joint lay to burn,
burn your past.

Menear has fun with the listeners for the first few tracks offering safe, radio ready compositions but Alright, Alright is the record’s awakening, it is it’s heart and soul.

It’s the kind of pop-rock record songwriters dare to reach new creative heights over without losing their minds. Some Kind of Sunshine is that record – minus the egos and bridge burning. This is ‘soul’ music the best I’ve heard this side of 2010 if not the past 20 years out of a male singer songwriter. Whether he’s ready for the guitar rock god title or not it’s for the taking but I doubt that’s the road he wants to be on listening to ‘Sunshine.’ The genre hopping and production detail is unparalleled to many young singer songwriter/guitar slingers working the circuit, dealing with the label games and trying to survive making records.  It’s light years ahead in diversity & execution.   {See John Mayer’s career; popular culture has been led to believe he is a great guitarist, songwriter because he began his career as a young guitar prodigy but at the end of the day he makes and sells baby formula records.  His vocals aren’t even worthy of mentioning in the same sentence as Menear’s- but I have to make a point. Mayer’s soul ain’t science, it’s theater, paid for and it’s tacky.  Mayer should commit to doing comedy sketch shows full-time; he’s just a funny guy & that’s about it.}

What follows Alright, Alright is just as memorable, emotional and blurry- Give Her a Name a breather, string arrangements, contemplative  & classy; Better On The Way, sexy folk soul; 79, a champion’s chorus, soaring vocals, and a melody made for the perfect radio station & a long car ride; the title track buried like a long lost hit before the final 2 knock outs already mentioned above, Plates & ‘November.’

Some Kind of Sunshine is loaded top to bottom with respectable, artistic, commercially mixed, classically produced hits.  I’ll say it again, this is a masterpiece of a singer-songwriter record.  A musical triumph by all the performers and a testament to the power of independent music being made in spite of the music industry’s lack of support towards younger career artists who deserve it the most. Whether you take my long winded advice to listen now or 20 years from now, it will become to others what it became to my ears in 2010, a landslide of a record. Produced the way records used to be made- with grand ambition, skill, amazing session players, production, incredible songs and enough fucking soul to make a grown man cry at 4am when he’s working because he can’t afford to sleep, repeatedly.

It’s the blues for sure; but it’s also the kind of ambitious record that triggers childlike moments playing the air guitar, imaginary drums and other kinds of ridiculous, joyous motions—anti-blues moves. This record is soul science, child’s play, a blues bomb, a face shredder, a pop tarte, a tear trigger, a folk fister and a heart pumper. For all of the genre-hopping it attempts & succeeds at, ‘Sunshine’ is just a deceptive, drop-dead, beautiful pop record created by an old midwestern soul tipping its creator’s hat to influences past & to the miles ahead — still unknown and searching.

Trevor Menear, the wheel to the wheels on the road from your soul to space are yours to take on this musical journey. Destroy, reinvent and rebuild these sounds for songs most will take for granted.  Pick pocket what you will; the blues, jazz, rock, r&b, country, folk, pop and put it in a blender, stir, pour & poison your peers but you’re already miles ahead. There’s no devil, there’s no cross-roads. This record is something else.  Soul science — and all kinds of sunshine.

AW


________________________________________________________

width=100

Buy & download Some Kind of Sunshine
> Via
iTunes, click here.
> Via Bandcamp, name your own price, or FREE
{SMS suggests you donate something}


Best of 2010 | Trevor Menear - Some Kind of SunshineAndy Whorehall
6

6 comments on "Best of 2010 | Trevor Menear – Some Kind of ..."

  1. alexdangerstewart on

    I just bought this album. The guitar tone on Make Me Howl is fierce!

    • I know, right? There’s a great YouTube video out there of Menear & Mohler working on the tones for that tune & tones for others in the studio. Here ya go:

  2. alexdangerstewart on

    Did he build a cabinet sized fuzz pedal? That's fucked up!

  3. Pingback: Articles written for Sock Monkey Sound | Andy Whorehall

  4. Pingback: Staff Picks: Best of 2011 - Andy Whorehall

  5. Pingback: The Diamond Light - The Diamond Light