The distinct guitar parts that embark down their own paths in the opening 15 seconds of the Treetop Flyers’ debut album neatly encapsulate the disparate elements the band joins together. There’s the folkily strummed acoustic, there’s the chiming and reverberating electric, and then there’s the lead, at once dramatic and intricate, carrying just a bit of fuzz.
But once “Things Will Change” fully kicks in, with Reid Morrison’s plaintive and nostalgic lead vocals and a rhythm section that grooves deeply, it’s clear that the Treetop Flyers offer much more than by-the-numbers Americana.
The Mountain Moves recalls the California rock of Buckingham’s Fleetwood Mac and Little Feat more than the airier singer/songwriter stuff, but Treetop Flyers pack in the harmonies as well. First impressions of the album carry signposts of that vintage sound, but digging in on repeated listens, there’s a grittier force at work. Recorded at Zuma Sound in Malibu, there’s no doubt this is a California album, but it’s music more for the avenues than the beach, palm trees lit by streetlights rather than a Pacific sunset.
Formed in 2009 in West London when Morrison (Morrison Steam Fayre) and American drummer Tomer Danan (Robbers On High Street) recruited like-minded musicians Sam Beer (guitar/vocals), Laurie Sherman (guitar), Matthew Starritt (bass/vocals), the band took its name from the Stephen Stills song “Treetop Flyer.”
“Things Will Change” works as a driving introduction to the band and transportation straight to the 1970s, framing a wistful set of lyrics about taking bad times in stride while making the most of the good times.
From there, the band is off and running. “Houses Are Burning” blends vocal harmonies with an edgy groove, darkness and lightness holding each other at bay, the tension a vibrant force throughout the song. Musically, “Waiting On You” takes the mood to a more laid-back zone, but as a tribute to Morrison’s late father, the song packs a complex emotional punch, intertwining tears with smiles.
“Rose” is the album’s mellowest moment, a swaying country tune of simple beauty. With its jittery guitar and insistent beat, “She’s Gonna Run” sounds like the soundtrack to some long-lost detective show. “Postcards” drags a doo-wop beat through Laurel Canyon, with a “shoop shoop” chorus guiding the homesick tale of a lonely traveler.
In the album’s final stretch, the six-minute “Storm Will Pass” begins like a weary late afternoon before building and building in intensity, while the finger-picked acoustic guitar and pristine harmony on “Is It Worth It” brings things to close with a campfire intimacy.
Producer Noah Georgeson and the Treetop Flyers have crafted a remarkably balanced album that takes familiarity past the zone of simple comfort music. The album is a thrill, delivering unexpected updates on its vintage influences. More soul than folk and more rock than country, The Mountain Moves is an idyllic debut from a band that has traced its own lively arc through the So-Cal ‘70s.