Brian Wilson’s techniques and pop sensibility continue to infiltrate the current music landscape, more than half a century after the formation of the pivotal Beach Boys. Even in the band’s most melancholy moments, Wilson’s compositions still create a warm hearth for the lovesick and nostalgic of the West Coast to crawl under. These same sensations ring true for mtvghosts’ new record, which is the band’s third piece of music and most elaborate to date. With The Five 5ides of Time, the rock-pop outfit evolves beyond the rock ‘n’ roll sentiments of their previous efforts and explodes with potent vocal arrangements and flu-season hooks. The band was (unsurprisingly) influenced by several early Beach Boys records, according to guitarist and vocalist James Matkovich, who was kind enough to speak about the new release over email. While mtvghosts’ 1st LP, “Tri-Pop”, was a strong debut, 5ides of Time finds the band polishing and refining their sound.
Primary songwriters Donnie Love (lead vocals) and Matkovich (multi-instrumentalist) offer up consistency and intrigue with every track of the record. The synth and guitar hooks stick to the pavement like gum. These licks are only strengthened by the band’s perfectly synched harmonies, which bounce and sashay across the speakers. The range and humorous tone of the vocals aren’t just strikingly pretty, they offer a tongue-in-check sneer that leaves you wondering how seriously the band takes themselves. The pacing of the songs is also central to the LP, with the speed going from six-shooter radio tune to sentimental tropical ballads. Sound engineer Chris Lee does the band justice by mastering the layers of the tracks into solid and cohesive movements. The sugary vocals and glamorous instrumentation do not overpower each other, but rather, strike a fine balance between the two strongest components. The rhythm section remains minimal and underused, but this allows for the listener to soak up the strongest pop-chunks of the album.
The sonic versatility is indicated by the variety of bands that come to mind when listening. Bits of Talking Heads, The Strokes, Of Montreal, Hunx and Queen click with synapses upon further inspection. Matkovich said that Ween and They Might Be Giants proved to be where some of the material was drawn from. However, the unique voice and style of the band remains intact.
Lyrically, the record is ambiguous and conceptual, following a malleable romantic tale. “Donnie created this vague, conceptual love story for The Five 5ides of Time. He wrote it down in a notebook one night and shared it with me, but I admittedly forgot most of it,” Matkovich explained.
The central character to the album, known as “The Diver,” is referenced repeatedly. Love seems intrigued by The Diver. “How do you survive?” he asks on “Gypsy Diver”, one of the album’s most sensationally catchy tracks. The Diver is also “his [Love’s] rival” and someone who is “playing with me”. What’s so fascinatingly confusing about the LP is whether Love is enamored with The Diver, or The Diver is something he must overcome to reach his romance, as opinions on the aquatic explorer shift dramatically.
The most concrete theme of 5ides of Time is vulnerability, which comes through as Love becomes increasingly self-critical. He’s “rotten, maybe sometimes” on “Todash Crimes.” His romantic car ride on “Gypsy Diver” finds the vocalist being “shook up and turned over like a two-liter”. His love being “left at the side of the road” on the track “I’m Seeing Stars.” On “Time on the Side”, he relays how he’s “talking all the time” while “running out of time”. The gooey relatability is kept in check with Love’s snarky pitch shifts and the backing vocals’ theatrical baritones and cereal-box falsettos. With that said, lines like “Why is it so tough to cry?” suggest deeper ideas, like the influence of masculinity in romance. Love’s writing perfectly matches the compositions, whether it’s the Yo Gabba Gabba synth jams or blunted, guitar-driven rock songs of the record.
The Five 5ides of Time is a new age pop record, one that transcends periods of rock music and its sentiments; as well as toying with the appeal of a simple song structures. The band is clearly an avid student of Brian Wilson, but the comparison to the Beach Boys only goes so far while slowly melts into the back of your mind. The Five 5ides of Time wears it heart on its sleeve, remaining flamboyant and obnoxiously exciting.
Written by Caleb Brennan