The Postmen have an amazing cover of CSNY “Helplessly Hoping” on YouTube that got me to pay attention to their work. After listening to that track a few dozen times, I decided to contact them for a copy of their own album. Imagine my surprise that they are not even native English speakers, hailing from Geneva, Switzerland. I was eager to crack their originals in Desert of Joy, an album that manages to capture some of the magic of the 1960s American rock n’ roll revolution. It’s an aural trip back in time in all the right ways.
“Westfield Market” highlights the lead singer’s eerie Neil Young vocal. It’s evident that these musicians spent a lot of time listening to music from the 60s. From song structure to background vocals, several of the songs would be welcome on a CSNY record. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young should feel sufficiently flattered. It’s an overall joy of an album.
The complex guitar part at the beginning of “Down Down Down” lets listeners know it will be a different kind of song. While it still has the dominant lead vocal, the driving blues chords and full vocals create a strong, headstrong song. “I wanna hold you tight tight tight, I wanna lay you down down down.” Albeit a simple concept, the song (including a pretty wicked organ part) captures again a facet of the 60s. If you make it through the track without conjuring up images of Woodstock, I’d be surprised.
The intricate harmonies in “December” are the aspect of The Postmen that initially drew me into their sound. This might be the best song on the album simply because of its balance of full sound and amazing harmonies. The song includes welcome strings that give it a different feel than the rest of the album. It doesn’t really have a time or a genre that seem to fit the song overall, but it is a powerful song that finishes with the lyrically bold, “I’m pretty sure who I am” at the end.
“Mr. Wilson” brings us back to the bluesy roots of American rock music. A little silly with a dash of sarcasm, “Mr. Wilson” focuses on a man trying to escape the boredom of life. With timely backing vocals, I can’t help but wonder if the title “Mr. Wilson” is in some reference to Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame. It certainly seems like the song could be based on his songwriting style. There are even some fun party sounds in the back of one of the instrument breaks, a trick taken right from the Beach Boys. It’s a fun, summery jam that many listeners are sure to enjoy.
“Dawn or Dusk” begins with a harmonic vocal crescendo, which peaks with a strummed acoustic guitar for a bright, full sound. It reminds me of the best of what CSNY had to offer. The mysterious chord turns are clearly influenced by classical music stylings that seem totally unpredictable from the American standard blues/country chords that provide the backbone for much of rock music. The lyrics are a bit difficult to determine, but seem to be intentionally mystical. It’s a very “international” sounding track.
“My friend… he died… in the desert of joy.” It’s macabre. It’s the opening line for the crowning jewel on the album, the title track “Desert of Joy.” Bringing together the key elements of the album, lead acoustic guitar, solid harmonies, and strong supportive strings… this is a good indication of the overall sound of The Postmen. Again the music takes a few trips away from the standard rock structure, supporting something more akin to orchestral song structure. The vocal quality is, still, more influenced by American folk rock than it is by “classical” vocals. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard this done in such a unique way before. For that evolution of sound, The Postmen deserve credit.
“Pieces of a Past Life” sounds like it could have been written by Bob Dylan. That’s high praise, sure, but the song’s guitar and lyric parts both come together for a Dylan style song. It reminds me a lot of “To Make You Feel My Love.” It is complicated, yet sweet and subtle. Again, The Postmen use strings to fill in the emotion of the song. The lyrical turn that focuses on memories is nostalgic and delightful in myriad ways. It’s a song that will have many listeners, especially those who lived through the 60s, reflecting back on wonderful days of great music and people. “Where we all want to be…”
Both “Memories” and “Heed the Call” that finish up the album are both introspective songs. They finish an album that is complex, yet enjoyable in a number of ways. While “Memories” is a bit softer and subtle, “Heed the Call” encourages listeners to celebrate. It definitely has a Monkees or Mamas and the Papas flavor to it. “Heed the call… don’t miss your chance… it won’t happen again.” Honestly, we could put half of this album on rotation on a US “oldies” station and most listeners wouldn’t be the wiser.
The final assessment of this album is that it’s full of joy, especially for fans of classic 1960s music. It has upbeat tunes as well as contemplative and complicated songs. What makes me even more excited about this album is the potential of the band members in The Postmen. I am encouraged that they will continue to make music together and hopefully build on this already stellar repertoire. I sincerely hope that fans of ETTG will go out and support this international band that is doing such great work in making high quality, genuine music.