Hutton Marshall | Album Review
The Donkeys new album comes out on June 3. It’s called “Ride the Black Wave.” Although the idea of a group of asses surfing on an oil spill sounds goofy, the album is pretty good.
For those unfamiliar with these bastions of indie-surf rock-country-feel-goodery, The Donkeys have been around San Diego for a little more than a decade, releasing three albums prior to “Black Wave.” The quartet won “Best Rock Band” at the San Diego Music Awards in 2012. Good, now you’re up to speed.
Black Wave crams 11 tracks into a run time just over 30 minutes. Genre-wise, the blanket term “indie rock” serves for all intents and purposes, although it’s diverse compared to previous releases. There’s a Hawaiian country song, a few pop songs and even a Beatles-in-India-esque song featuring one of those twangy, eastern string instruments (I googled it; it’s called a sitar).
On first impressions, the band uses some admittedly clichéd song titles, such as “Sunny Daze,” the opening track of this, their fourth studio album, which opens with sounds of pelicans cawing and surf crashing on the beach—something surely without precedent in the Southern California music scene. Throughout much of the album, the lyrics rely frequently on repetition, catering more to the phonetic impact of the words sung.
Despite all this, The Donkeys are undeniably easy on the ears throughout. Their relaxing, unpretentious sound beckons enjoyment over critical examination. And perhaps most impressively, their skill as musicians is readily apparent, but they could not rightfully be labeled showoffs by any recognizable authority on showoffs. Lengthy guitar solos will not be found on Black Wave, nor will seismic instrumental breakdowns or wailing breakdowns. No, The Donkeys are about perpetuating a mellow vibe—plain and simple.
Attracting some niche media hype for their portrayal of the fictional, yet undeniably groovy band Geronimo Jackson on “Lost,” The Donkeys have garnered notable national attention in their own right for being a musically deft indie band—even if not quite cerebral–that mixes in surf music and country far more tastefully than most. In Black Wave–their best album to date—they don’t quite break that mold, but I think it’s a fine mold for a band to find itself in, really.
Maybe I give their earnestness too much credit, or their creative yearnings too little. It’s true, the drum timings on many of the tracks are inventive where indie pop is concerned, such as their dreamy single “Scissor Me Cigs.” Throughout much of the album, warm synth sounds and dirtied electric guitar blend over acoustic strumming for melodies transcending your average indie surf rock.
Sure, few outside the cult of everlasting Lost enthusiasts might recall the faux-Geronimo Jackson a couple decades from now, but that doesn’t mean their status as a well-honed mass producer of steezy listening is anything to balk at.
The Donkeys play The Irenic in North Park on June 6. Purchase tickets for $12.62 at sodabarmusic.com.