Just who does Donavon Frankenreiter think he is? His handle has crowded the aisle of my brain that shelves the name of Flat Duo Jet Dexter Romweber. Suddenly, somewhere in my cerebrum, Romweber’s sickly rockabluesy squawk is sharing Clamato and coconut meat with Frankenreiter and a bunch of vibrant free love types who’ll never experience the ill light and Pabst vomit of a properly soulless rock club. Like sunlight and bare indie skin, Romweber’s pointy lapels were never meant to meet Frankenreiter’s Polynesian shells. Their cross-pollination is confusing and sick; it’s killing my brain like a poisonous mushroom. Can anyone save the indie hard liners from these mellow golden soldiers?
Like his pal Jack Johnson – he of the occasional gleaming beard – the mustachioed Donavon Frankenreiter migrated from surfing to rocking. This means there are at least two guys in the world with casually perfect facial hair and charmed lives ya read about. (What’s next for these cats? Getting stuck in a lotus plant factory with Christina Applegate and Kate Beckinsale?) But it also means that Frankreiter’s self-titled debut record doesn’t fall that far down the fret board from Johnson’s Brushfire Fairytales. A gently-lapping collection of acoustic-based tunes built handily for toe-tapping or toke-taking, Donavon Frankenreiter is like an herbal remedy for the harsh scabs of indie, or cracking open the painted-shut windows in a dark punk rock hole. Let the sun shine in! Greasy hair’d serious types smoking unfiltered cigs at the end of the bar? They squint their eyes, but can’t help mobilizing ankle boots to this guy’s good times. Haughty girls with roots showing and crushes on Ben Gibbard? It’s sand all over dark denim as they clamber for Frankenreiter face time. “Oh baby let’s get down tonight/’Cause every time we do it feels so right”, he sings in “On My Mind.” “Let’s go sit underneath that willow tree,” and you can’t help but hope that the next line ends with “smoke a doobie”. It doesn’t, but goddamn if the cut’s subtle organ tones and soulful leads don’t make Donavon sound like the best busker in Hawaii’s subway. It’s impossible to resist – Donavon Frankenreiter is Perry King in “Riptide” singing Ben Harper karaoke, and his midas touch kills indie scum dead.
As if the juniper-flavored ramble wasn’t fucking easygoing enough on Donavon Frankenreiter, G. Love stops by for a few tracks, too. You know G. Love – he’s the cat from Philly who sold hip blues licks about cold beverages and basketball to a nation of college students in mid to late 1990s. While Johnson and Frankenreiter were presumably scoping out the pipeline, G. Love and his crack backup band joined Harper’s Fight For Your Mind (1995) in a race for the CD players of Sierra Nevada drinkers everywhere. In other words, Harper and the G Man’s grooving kind of love was the flame that lit the Brushfire. The man’s presence on Frankenreiter only makes it glow brighter, and more threatening to those unfortunate souls wearing year round leather who refer to albums as “projects”.
What this cadre of Coppertoned and laid-back dudes do for the seriousness and conscious grime of indoor and indie rock is point out how overwrought it can all really be. Especially in the summertime! Sure, Frankenreiter and Johnson’s brand of music can be ridiculously simplistic, interchangeable, and elementary. But it’s not the songcraft of either camp that’s at issue here. What’s more important is the sense that guys like Frankenreiter and Johnson are, in a general common listener sense, making more people happy than many of today’s more self-important indie acts. Sometimes the bands making their way in vans seem to do so for the benefit or satisfaction of a few; they can even get caught up in their own cliquey mythologizing. The dance punk revival of the last few years is a notable and promising departure – on a recent sweltering night in Detroit, the decidedly fancy Franz Ferdinand made manic little meat helmets out of old Housemartins and Joy Division grooves, and gave a packed house of hip more reason to dance than the Pistons’ NBA Finals victories already had. However, in the big picture it’s nearly impossible for any style derived from the arch hyper growl of punk rock to compete with the fuzzy yellow ’70s soft-rock redux of Donavon Frankenreiter and his friendly bunch of pals. The shit’s just so damn inviting.
This summer, take a break from post-hardcore, or the opaque wiry soup of the latest unsmiling crew to stare dotingly down at their vintage instruments. Instead, why not take an easy walk down the brain stem islands to a place where palm trees sag with the weight of fruit, and handlebar mustaches are always cool? People probably say “Rad” a lot here, and it’s not ironic; for some reason, the girls of Blue Crush are top of mind. Roll up your jeans and wade in the water, and look down toward the bend at the orange-red flare of an ocean-side fire. Then you’ll hear it. Not distortion, but an insistent acoustic jangle. Some guy with a thumb piano walks leisurely by. Suddenly you’re surrounded, not by spiked belts and ashen jaded faces, but a bunch of shaggily handsome types with craggy crows’ feet faces and laughing eyes.
“Hey man, you look like a guy who could use some Clamato.”