Naked All The Time
The debut LP from Tulsa trio Sports is an unabashed summer record, imbuing plastic poolside recliners, oily sunscreen residue and half-deflated float toys in its incessantly hazy and ephemeral guitar pop narratives. But this isn’t a modern July night sort of record … or at least not in the sense of existing solely in the present. A crackling nostalgia for an era before its players were ever born is the fire in its belly, dorky ’80s sensuality worn thick like convenience store cologne. It’s then as heard now, composed of pink dusk ballads and Hawaiian shirt-clad, dad-bod beach jams that are so outwardly, almost direly uncool that they actually threaten to supersede the long-held Fonzie standard of hipness and enter some new plane where those stakes are wholly inverted. It’s the geek chic of Weezer applied to soul-rimmed pop versus the more soaring, power variety.
Whether the players (Cale Chronister, Jacob Theriot and Christian Theriot) making these songs feel this way about them or not, the album places Phil Collins and Huey Lewis on the pedestal typically reserved for Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Bob Dylan or The Beatles. These umbrella straws of singles — refreshed with a wine cooler instead of heavied by a bottle of whiskey — delight in the same dweeby island eccentricities in the Mac Demarco has in the wake of 2012’s Rock & Roll Night Club. Empowering for those who have neither leathery biker bar toughness nor slick high school stud charm, it’s an exercise unironically reinventing what the definition of cool can or could be, much to the chagrin of the line of poseurs clutching at the rubble The Rolling Stones, Joy Division or Pink Floyd rattled off its backside decades ago.
But there’s a warm, puppy dog sincerity at the center of the composition of a “Night Swim” or “Panama” that toes the line between musical repurposing and full-on aesthetic parody, the same appreciation dipped from unpopular (see: uncool) opinion that an unhinged Patrick Bates has for, fittingly enough, Lewis’ Sports. This music plays best when there’s at least a smack of knowing sarcasm beneath it all, which “Feels Like Magic” does. All the tenants of rolled-sleeves ’80s pop and Parrothead flirtations are there, but modern and sophisticated is the execution of all the notes and tones present to make it a genuinely fun song to laugh with and not just at. That’s the case with much of Naked All the Times’ offerings, the mall-pop of yesteryear now played earnestly at a shopping center Urban Outfitters because of the understanding that what we want ourselves to like and what we actually do is usually a fractured struggle, music that a great aunt and her 20-something nephew can appreciate for both entirely different and entirely similar reasons.
As a whole, Naked All the Time is a glass beach shack made up entirely of funhouse mirrors, warping and elongating every note that bounces about those frosted walls to its physical extreme and glinting off the shimmery mirror edges into a whispy oblivion. Blending dream-pop harmonies, subtle psychedelic undertones and soft R&B romance into a Vaseline-like paste, this is the gangly, naive loner’s big romantic gesture to bang-bang shotgunned lust of his jock counterpart. Only the most stone-hearted she-demon could resist the sultry, telephone echo of opener “You Are the Right One,” impressing in spite of eschewing all of dad’s advice in the lo-fi warble of Ariel Pink at his most tender and conventional, glossy guitars splaying out like thin limbs reaching out for a hug and kiss. It’s the setup for deal-closer “Feels Like Magic,” which most precisely pins Sports’ spunky fire and penchant for guilty pleasures in a tight, jewelry box bow.
“Dina” and “Dalton’s Wish” drift more aimlessly like Blood Orange lost cuts, sonically adequate if not entirely focused. That’s sharpened though, plunging into the wide-eyed “Panama,” a tightly whirled single that launches into a synchronized, half-time celebration of all things bright, floral, sunny and sweet, which “Naked” half-remembers in feverish bouts, the sun baking as its toes dabble in the water, that is more abstract but still charming. The long-winded “Strange to Hear” and similarly trippy “Night Swim” bring the album to a 3 a.m. close, but not before reaffirming that love, attraction, cool and everything else under that summer sun all lies in the eye of the beholder.