An LA Quartet

A new discovery is the Angeleno Andy Lange, a pop musician who has single-⁠handedly been assembling a body of work – assuming every role in the process, the writing, singing, playing (all the instruments), and not least, producing – over the last several years.

By way of summarising the character of his songs: as he takes care to note on his own behalf, Lange’s background in a cappella music is heard from in their structure, with instrumentation that’s complex without distracting the listener by a surfeit of effects, and lyrics which his voice, assisted and not altered or obscured by the available technology, delivers in a mellifluously pleasing manner. If The Beach Boys were somehow to be reborn, this time as a solo act, and now updated for the present with the full range of the latter’s technical capabilities, but without slickness and plastic, Lange’s brand of Los Angeles pop is a bit what they might sound like.

Lange operates without the backing of any record label; his two albums are available through his Reverbnation page.

Beyond this body of music, Lange evidently also stands at the centre of a nexus of other musicians in Los Angeles; most notable (these it was which first attracted my attention) are his collaborations with Andrew Garcia, Josh Golden, and Chester See, and of them I have collected a couple into a playlist along with some of his solo songs and, for good measure, a joint effort between two of the latter figures.

A few highlights in the playlist are the parts sung by Golden and Garcia in the first number, a cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” – the former, hovering at the top of his register and then descending for some memorable emphasis, the latter with his raspy earnestness throughout; the sensitivity with which See handles the vocals in his and Lange’s version of Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team”; the beatboxing by Lange in his and See’s rendition, entirely a cappella apart from one guitar solo, of Muse’s “Madness”; and Lange’s vocals in his own song “Maybe You Will,” in which the Beach Boys vibrations may perhaps be heard most distinctly.

Yet it is this occasional quartet’s re-⁠creation of Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” which packs the biggest punch – it’s a stunning piece of work – leaving one hoping that these four will fulfil their common promise by reconvening frequently from now on.

That it should be this song, over the last weeks often in the news, which thus far has afforded them the greatest opportunity to show what they can do, calls for a remark or two. As one knows, in recent months, Cyrus’ videos, her performance alongside Robin Thicke at the MTV Video Music Awards, and her newfound persona generally, have prompted controversy – but also, though this is probably less well-⁠known albeit of much greater interest, several sharp parodies on Youtube (of which the most cutting are probably Bart Baker’s), which puncture the calculated decline so patent in much of today’s commercial pop music, and even some of the pretentious excuses advanced for it as well. Now, the quartet’s video for its re-⁠creation of “We Can’t Stop” also comprises several parodic elements, but these are included in the vein of good-⁠natured fun, and in fact the main issue with Cyrus is skirted here by dint of a few strategic adjustments in the lyrics: gone are the lines in the original where drugs, their use, and their uses had been alluded to. The change does not represent an arbitrary act of suppression; on the contrary, it follows from the fact that in this quartet’s version one neither hears nor sees the desolation from which those who turn to a drug (seeking a substitute for something else that’s unavailable) so often try to flee and by which they later are overtaken. No evidence at all is to be found here of the feeling of being alone even while amidst a crowd of other people (this feeling whose significance generally is all too often overlooked), and hence those lines in the lyrics, had they remained, would have found themselves flagrantly out of place.

Whenever this song about a group of people (“our house”) is sung by one voice, the result will probably tend of itself to send out something of a plaintive or lonely sound, but when it’s a group which performs it, what we’re given is an actual illustration of its subject – the lively sense of camaraderie. Here, therefore, that desolate state is circumvented from the start, and a great part of the charm of the quartet’s version stems from this; for this too is what lends an especial point to its mixing together some of the harmonies of the barbershop quartets and the doo-⁠wop of times past, with some of the style of the bands of the late nineteen-⁠fifties and early sixties. Thus, even today, the decadence of the pop music industry notwithstanding, the energy of that older mode of singing-⁠together might yet flourish.

In any event, their video shows how Lange, Garcia, Golden, and See take joy in one another’s company, sharing the pleasure of it unabashedly (this is a point underscored by the humorous coda to the video), and the result is invigorating. I for one hope they won’t stop.

Postscript. Mainly for lack of time to assemble one, the Sunday round-⁠up will have to wait until next week. Meanwhile, I’ve found that Andy Lange also has a Soundcloud page, though it has not been updated recently.