Harpooner's "Rose Park"
By Mandi Kimes
Bloomington, Indiana-bred trio Harpooner had to relocate to Nashville to get the perfect album under their belt. Harpooner blends classic idols like The Beatles and Harry Nilsson with modern genre-benders Local Natives, Temples, and The Strokes, with a sound that they declare “1970′s power-pop:” bits and pieces of psychedelia and surf rock on their debut full-length album Rose Park, which came out this last week. The band is comprised of singer Scott Schmadeke, bassist Max Mullen, and drummer Josh Morrow, with the album featuring strings arranger Diederik Van Wassanaer on violin and violas, and Josh Menashe and Owle Sigman on guitars.
The decision to transplant the band from Bloomington to Nashville wasn’t easy. Schmadeke explains that the album, as well as the transition, is “based on the experiences that were very new to me, like a collapsed lung, or being hit by a car at SXSW, to a series of unsuccessful relationships.” With initial recording beginning on New Year’s Day of 2015, the album took 32 days over the next ten months to record and mix, going back-and-forth between Nashville and Bloomington to record with Andy Beargie.
The album begins with lead single “The Carolines,” which is the perfect upbeat beachy tune to grab your attention. With swirling guitars and ground-thumping drums, it’s sure to get you moving. The lush orchestration adds an element of dreaminess that takes the song off the ground in to the clouds. The two-part harmony isn’t enough to drown out the elaborate instrumentation happening underneath, and that’s perfectly okay. The instrumental break allows Morrow a chance to churn away at different drum patterns before diving back into the verse. Compositionally, I can’t help but here a subtle comparison to The Strokes’ “Last Nite.” No use searching for your summer jam anymore, it’s here with Harpooner’s incredibly catchy tune “The Carolines.” The second song, “Love Shadow” dials down while keeping the energy alive with its steady beat and addition of shakers. The ascending melody from the verse into the chorus lifts you into a dreamy psychedelic-pop haze. The subtle tinkering of piano in the background gives the ornamentation of a haunting past trying to peak through the fluidity of the song. The tropical nature of the song fades out with dreamy synths.
“Stolid Head” begins with keys and vocals, and then dives into full band funk. The string arrangements steal the spotlight in this song. “Your insecure overture is bringing me down,” Schmadeke sings before transitioning into a McCartney-esque “Dear Boy” setting in the bridge. The filter on the vocals mixed with the lyrical sickness switches things up from the steady pop-nature of the songs. While Schmadeke sings “I sing outta tune,” the guitar plays a lick that reminds me of 10cc’s “I’m Mandy, Fly Me.” Additionally, the guitars launch the song forward, making “Stolid Head” the most spiraling whirlwind-like song on the album while giving nods to 1970s pop icons throughout the tune. “Bigger Thoughts” reminds me a lot of ROAR’s “I Can’t Handle Change” with its chugging organ sound and slow tempo. Similar to the previous track, the whirlwind nature of the song keeps the momentum of the song upbeat through the ins-and-outs of lyrical madness. The driving force of the piano compliments the harmonies in the chorus very nicely. In the middle of the song, and bluesy-ragtime-esque piano takes lead during the instrumental breakdown. The song ends with Schmadeke’s realization that he’s “Better off without you,” while voices echo in three-part harmony. As the instruments carry the song forward to the end, the strings end the song in layered bliss.
“Hush Up” could easily be mistaken for a track off of a Temples album. Its whirling acid-drenched guitar melody will hypnotize you into a trip. “I wanna keep in touch, but not too much because God is watching us,” leads you to believe that Schmadeke is engaging with someone he shouldn’t be. The ragtime-esque piano returns in the chorus and the pounding drums and desert-sounding guitars turn this into a bad trip: the rushed heart-pounding, anxious feeling when bad thoughts emerge during an acid trip. The trip continues as it attempts to lift you back into bliss, before dropping off and entering the atmospheric psychedelic A-part, assuring you that the trip is over, as you come back down to reality. The song flows seamlessly into the slow-tempo “Cosmic Love.” The tune practices the use of different synth “voices” and melodic key parts to set the tone for Schmadeke’s sultry voice. Of all the songs on the album, this one is the most spacey, which would explain the cosmic namesake. When the rest of the band begins to enter the equation, the song is ready for take-off into cyberspace. The landing at 2:34 gives the listener a sense of ease. Sonically the tune is reminiscent of Innerspeaker-era Tame Impala. The harmonic blend in the voices gives the sense of two sides to the human brain during space navigation: one side calm (the lower harmony) and one side panicking (the higher harmony, with its belting nature).
“Immigration” starts slowly with organ fading in and hushed percussion as Schmadeke lazily sings along. The song doesn’t get exciting until the chorus, when the introduction of lap steel is brought to your attention to compliment the three-part harmony. The reverbed lap steel adds a sense of psychedelia while the harmonies weave in-and-out of “aahs” before settling back into the groove. “Memphis” starts with percussion setting the groove before ragtime piano chimes in, almost as if the song personified a chugging train. The chorus exemplifies the classic ragtime feel of plunky piano and stomping percussion. The song remains stagnant with no real deviation of melody or chord structure, which makes the song the only one on the album to do so. The album ends with “Let Me Get By,” the ballad of Rose Park. Piano takes the spotlight with Schmadeke singing “I create my own mess” in the chorus. The strings possess a similar “night-time” feeling like The Beatles’ “Good Night,” famously sung by Ringo Starr. This song ends the album perfectly, as the past few tracks set you off into a dream of psychedelia, and this song is like the moment between sleeping and waking up when the light peaks in and your consciousness begins to remember that “It was all just a dream.” That’s all it was, just a dream.
It takes a lot of patience to create a flawless album in ten months, but Harpooner did it. If there’s anything to learn from the acid trip I just got off of with Rose Park, it’s that there’s no need to rush something that isn’t perfect, or won’t work. My hat’s off to the Hoosier trio, for they have won me over with their lush melodies, honest lyrics, and catchy nature to write a song.