From a young age I was bombarded with the notion that southern California was a mellow place. Everything about the place, I thought, was laid-back. As an adult, of course, I came to recognize this as a simplistic stereotype, but that doesn't mean nobody actually conforms to it--San Diego's Donkeys, for instance, sound so laid-back I imagine they'd consider "Bummer, man!" an uncontrolled outburst.
The group's recent second album, Living on the Other Side (Dead Oceans), cleaves to old-school SoCal rock verities, particularly the hazy vibe Gram Parsons brought to the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo (as opposed to its country-rock sound) and the grizzled chill of early Grateful Dead (yes, I know my geography is a little off on this one). The music has such a relaxed feel that I wouldn't be surprised if they recorded it sitting down. Or even prone.
Though the Donkeys' songwriting isn't in a league with the Byrds' or the Dead's, they have developed an amiable, ambling sound marked by sweetly ragged vocal harmonies, clean, jangly guitars, and appealingly lethargic drumming. It's not particularly unique or original, natch, but if you're tired of the Jayhawks and Beachwood Sparks and looking for a post-Gram fix, it'll do just fine.
The Donkeys play tonight at the Bottom Lounge.
Cheer-Accident, Introducing Lemon (Skin Graft)
Jacob Young, Sideways (ECM)
Som Imaginário, Matança do Porco (Odeon, Brasil)
Cabaret Voltaire, The Voice of America (Mute)
Ut, In Gut's House (Blast First)