The Squires of the Subterrain

Daisy Sunglasses: The Early Days

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Christopher Earl once confessed that his music was created to fill a void left by the disappearance of the golden gems that burst from '60s AM radio painted in dayglow hues. The Squires of the Subterrain, then, have always been part homage, but more than that they represent a singular, spectacular alternate universe where the great psychedelic era, once explosive with musical ingenuity, never met its untimely demise. Earl began his fruitful excavation of this musical Oz on the cassettes Shell Beach (1989), Royal Slumber (1990), and Cowboys and Indians (1991), all three of which are compiled on this CD reissue. With that in mind, listeners can definitely ferret out allusions to and signposts of the great pop bands of the era throughout the album's 12 songs, particularly the finest work of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Turtles, the Monkees, and the Kinks. But whereas some critics point to such a referential focus as a weakness in other artists, it is one of the strongest and most endearing aspects of Earl's art. Yes, he extends the melodic and harmonic adventurousness of his inspirations, but a Squires of the Subterrain song is also immediately individual even in its crudest state. That last observation is worth noting in this case, as in spots lo-fi doesn't even suffice as a descriptive term for the recording quality. Daisy Sunglasses is far more rough-hewn than any subsequent Squires release would be. Recording levels aren't always adequate and the music, as a result, frequently sounds muddy, thus drowning out the singing at times. On the other hand, the songs themselves are unreservedly expert, boldly borrowing tricks, particularly from the Sgt. Pepper ("Hitchin' Up a Ride," "Annie B.") and Smile ("Royal Slumber") bags, but also expanding the outreach to Big Star (the first "Burbank Terrace") and the drunk-hearted piano-bar soul of early Harry Nilsson ("Brownstone Houses"). Earl, though, also added something vital to the cross-era discussion. The Squires' discography would soon grow in cohesiveness, craft, and accomplishment without losing any of its spark, compared to which Daisy Sunglasses sounds more like a hodgepodge of fascinating notebook sketches or pathways worthy of further exploration. But rarely would Earl expose a more purely exuberant vein than on this most unaffected effort.

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