Mike Donovan’s post-Sic Alps trajectory has swerved through as many mangled twists as the Alps themselves. At heart, he’s a man that can’t be pinned, placarded, and cataloged like so many, instead preferring to douse his pop, psych, and noise with a deluge of bleach and sulphuric acid. Following the crunch n’ crumble attack of Sic Alps he fluffed his pop chops on his first solo LP, opting for a folk shuffle that bordered on simple sincerity. Likewise the first stretch as Peacers landed as a garage gem shot through with a reverence for the Velvets and Syd Barrett resting in the palm of each hand. The further he gets from inception, though, the more murky the visions become. Peacers’ second act was tied in knots and dosed to the collar in plastic foam and feedback flecks. His last solo LP was a view of the sky from the drain, a shut-in shimmy that left the fray of its housecoat in plain view.
So that brings us to Exubrian Quonset just a year later, sounding more like Sic Alps than Donovan has in a long time. The fuzz is at the forefront, and there’s that hot-footed sway that always gave the band their charms. Yet, going into a Donovan penned record, I’m always looking for that transcendent pop moment and that seems to be absent this time around. He’s usually got a damnable earworm packed in there somewhere, one that comes bursting from the buzz to knock the wind out of the listener. He’s pushing towards the light with the fluorescent flicker of “B.O.C. Rate Applied,” and its probably the most pop moment on the album, but even with a late night glow, it’s a different side of his pop canon. I’ll always be holding out for another WOT (the whole thing is nothing but these brilliant moments), another “L Mansion,” another “God Bless Her I Miss Her,” another “She’s On Top,” and that’s on me. Donovan seems to be swimming in the fray much more often these days, embracing his hackles more than his come-hithers.
I’m not gonna fault him. The fray has always been a portion of the equation, part and parcel with listening to any band he’s helming, but it was finding the surprise inside that always made me smile. For the fuzz farmers and wobble poppers, there’s still a lot of material to chew on here. It’s not circling the storm drain as hard as the last time around, but it does still seem to be looking up at the stars from the curb. Something in the record feels like Donovan is closing a chapter, like he’s tying up loose ends. This is, in fact, his leaving San Francisco record, so perhaps there’s just a weight on the record’s shoulders that’s too heavy for the buoyant bounce of his pop past.
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