The great, innocent summers of the halcyon days of sun and surf no longer really exist, so perhaps the next best thing for the nostalgic types amongst us is a compilation album that recreates the type of lighthearted summertime tunes that filtered from AM radios back then, that still turn some baby boomers teary-eyed even now when they hear them. That is precisely what the Optional Art compilation Burnt Marshmallows & Teeny Bikinis does, collecting an eclectic array of modern-day takes on the summer anthems of the past from some well-known names within the pop underground of the 1990s.
The album presents a dozen groovy tunes, variations on surf music, odes to the sunshine, a wishful schoolboy tune (Gary & the Masticators' "Permanent Vacation"), and a tongue-in-cheek drag-strip saga in Bill & the Hodads' (aka Bill Retoff) "Drag-Racin' Surfer," as well as a few straight pop songs with lyrical allusions to most the romantic (and hormonal) season of the year, with plenty of sunny Beach Boy harmonies and Duane Eddy guitar to go around. There is even a Ventures-style, mini-exploitation spaghetti-western instrumental (Rich Arithmetic's "Russ Meyer's Revenge") to play during those campfire nights, and the Oohs toss out a Queen-style romp with "Summer Sun." Most of the music on the album is not substantial by these artists' standards, and it is not supposed to be. The main purpose for putting the collection together, after all, is to reminisce a little bit and have some toss-off fun -- maybe even daydream a bit as if there were no other care or worry in the world other than lounging on the beach and surreptitiously scoping through all the suntanned bodies for that right guy or girl.
Certain songs, however, are more than your average genre and stylistic exercises. John McMullan's "Summertime Karma Groove" is a wistful piano tune that sounds almost exactly like the Turtles. The most impressive song is "Yellow Summer Sun" from Squires of the Subterrain, a lazy pop epic that sounds like a sure hit from 1965. Even better, however, is the bonus 13th track (jokingly listed on the back of the album in extra-large lettering), also from Squires of the Subterrain. Mastermind Chris Earl lets loose with six incredible minutes of complex pocket symphonics obviously inspired by the Beach Boys' Smile project. Coming across like a mixture of "Heroes & Villains," "Good Vibrations," the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," and the Kinks' "20th Century Man," it is an inspiring imitation, and reason enough, even if you are not the nostalgic type, to shell out some of that summer-job wage.