California places a distinct sonic stamp upon the music born with in its boundaries. Owens had his Bakersfield, Parsons his Joshua Tree, and Malkmus his Stockton, and in their tunes you can hear dust, desert highways, and skateboards gliding over suburbia. The Donkeys have San Diego, and from that environment have woven a fundamental ease in their music – a rock, a roll, a sway, a slide – you could even call it a breeze. On Ride the Black Wave, The Donkeys continue their easy rolling, classic vibrations, but add a mystery and tension that make this record their most lyrically and instrumentally compelling.
Ride the Black Wave embodies what Jack Kerouac described of California’s coast as having an “end of the land sadness.” The Donkeys stare out at the ocean in a “fantastic drowse” – a kind of pensiveness towards their environs that summons the elements of sound and style that belong only to them. In “Blues In The Afternoon”, a collective mantra, the band runs out of land and asks of the ocean to offer suggestions about their fate. It is songs like these that prove the Donkeys are a band in the true sense of the word, sharing each other’s worry and wonder. With RTBW, The Donkeys have further caged their craft and have accomplished the delicate and artful challenge of taming the captured, while also letting it be wild.
Recorded at San Diego’s Singing Serpent and mixed by LA’s Thom Monahan, the Telecasters have a golden shimmer, the drums seem to echo with a regional reverberation. The notes coming off the Rhodes float on like beer-buzzed afternoons, but just when you get lost in the hypnotic swirl of “Sunny Daze” the churning guitars begin to circle like sharks, reminding us of the realities beneath all beautiful surfaces. Ten tracks deep, Adrianne Verhoeven of San Francisco’s Extra Classic appears like the mythic Calafia herself, delivering a vocal that would bring Cortez to his knees.
So, it is with Ride the Black Wave that The Donkeys add their own stratum to California’s ever expanding musical frontier, while maintaining their golden “shine” as well as interjecting a tension with the sun and beauty. The record hypnotizes as much as it awakens; it poetically puts us at ease while we sit in traffic, peck at our keyboards in cubicles, or conversely, it accompanies us as we ride along desert highways, or sway with our lovers. It is about home; it is about waves, and surrendering to their movements, trusting that they will take us to where we truly belong.