Album Review: Great Apes – “California Heart”

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Great Apes are a band unafraid to tackle a meaty concept on their releases. Their last EP Playland dealt with the homogenization and subsequent loss of identity of frontman Brian Moss’s native San Francisco. This, the band’s second full length release, uses the fictional story of a disaffected adolescent to explore a range of subjects including mental illness, isolation, marriage, suburban living, drugs, bullying and more. Although the narrator is fictional, the issues that are discussed are easily relatable for anyone who has ever felt alienated or alone. All of this might suggest that this is a very downbeat album. Not at all. This album bursts with life and vitality.

Opener California Heart places our (anti) hero in a cul-de-sac in Fresno. It’s immediately clear that all is not well in their world. The song captures the protagonists feelings of impotence as they struggle to live up to society’s expectations. Although this might sound like a dark opener, the music is a bright and energetic pop-punk affair. It would be just as easy to just crank this up loud on a carefree sunny day. “The Last Days Of Tranquility” has the character finding sanctuary in nature and escaping from an uncaring world. It’s a powerful song with Moss’s voice bearing a striking resemblance to a less political but equally as erudite Conor Oberst. “Saint Brasher” has the central figure discovering the power of literature. Moss cleverly inserts names of landmark novels that deal with isolation and alienation into the lyrics.

The cathartic nature of the subject matter belies the variety of music on offer. This is true bay area pop punk to the core. The choruses are catchy and memorable and there are some suitably raucous shout along moments. While the band are adept at tweaking the boundaries of Pop punk, there are no 6 minute epics or wistful acoustic numbers. “Brown dots” and “Regarding You in Me” tear along with hints of Jawbreaker’s ear for melodic hardcore hooks.. “Chuckchansi’s Complacency for Beginners” slows the pace a little with a more early 90s Pearl Jam feel. “Prom Com” highlights the central characters disgust at the shallowness and narcissism of the people around them. It contains all the gutsy fire of an Avail song but with more searching introspection.

The album ends with two songs that documents the character’s feelings of despondence and abandonment. “Shut In with the Burden” deals with the agony of their depression and continued social isolation. It contains the powerful lyric “These days are the pages I don’t want to read”. Album finale, “The Escapist”, sees the central character resigned to their perceived fate. It’s testament to the band that that these themes come across as even handed full stops to the album. In that way they recall some of J Church’s most heartfelt moments.

This album deals with some often dark and complex subject matter but follows the melodic and catchy precepts of pop punk. It is a clever juxtaposition of the two that succeeds thanks to the bands adherence to the concept. Musically, it is tight and cohesive with all fat cut away. This is a multifaceted and accomplished album that rewards repeat listens. A sunny album with a troubled heart.

4/5 Stars


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