Photo by Robert Giampa
Myspace // "Nothing Oh Nothing" [mp3] // "So We'll Just Take The Night" [youtube]
California songs are not really about California at all. Listening to The Mamas & the Papas's "California Dreamin'," one realizes the song has more to do with New York dreariness than any kind of L.A. bliss. Similarly, Joni Mitchell's "California" is not a song about the golden state as much as it is about the city of light. Phantom Planet's eponymous California song is about being on the road and missing home. In these examples, west coast pop signifies a California Imaginary; rather than an actual place, it becomes a past or future space.
When thinking about songs that evoke the California Imaginary, I'm inclined to point to Costa Mesa's Satisfaction. Lead singer Michael Rosas pulls the California Imaginary directly from Brian Wilson's brain, all sun-kissed and sepia-tinged. On their new EP, Cougars, Sharks, and Flying Sparks, Satisfaction define the California pop sound by drawing influences from 60s surf melodies, 70s L.A. singer/songwriter sophistication, and 80s Huntington Beach hardcore energy.
Like the California imagined by John Phillips and Mama Cass, Satisfaction's California makes more sense as a dream. The fuzzy logic of dreams is a lot like the west coast actual; strange and unreal, the perfection is difficult to accept. As in dreams, one recognizes that things mean rather than have meaning. The world of the California Imaginary is a world of symbols not signs. Sunny days, dead feelings, the deep blue sea, and nights like these suggest imagery more compelling than their literal interpretations. To bring up "California Dreamin'" again, Satisfaction use imagery like The Mamas and the Papas; California becomes more relatable in the imaginary because everyone has an idea of California even if everyone doesn't have a memory of California. Listening to Satisfaction songs like "So We'll Just Take The Night" and "Nothing Oh Nothing" is an experience where one feels California more than one could ever know California.