Any chance pop culture has to romanticize California living, pop culture takes. And for good, if superficial, reason. The Golden State is gorgeous, vast, brimming with excitement and possibility and the illusory promise of leisure. Through a properly calibrated lens, it’s a place where nothing bad can happen, and anything that does isn’t really all that bad. Why would it be? Walk a few inches to the west and you’ll stumble onto aureate beaches, each crash of the waves on the shoreline a palliative sight to sweep your woes away. California, at a glance, is a land of comfort and contentment. Everything is beautiful. Everyone is beautiful.
But California is inevitably prone to decay. The beach only seems restorative; it gives, but also takes away. The people only act happy; like everyone else in every other state, they’re vulnerable to wanting. That’s the vibe captured by Echoes in the Well of Being, the first outing from psych rock outfit Primaveras. They’ll supply the soundtrack for your next trip to the coast, spent whiling away hours splayed under the sun or splashing in the surf, but the pleasantry and ease of their sound sugarcoats the deep rooted melancholy that drives the album forward. California’s only as much a paradise as you wish it to be. Echoes in the Well of Being reveals that mythos as kind of a two-faced king bummer.
Nobody’s satisfied in Primaveras’ California. They’re on the decline, or adrift in longing reveries. “I know you’ve been high for so long / And how hard it is to come down / I just wish you weren’t so afraid / To show me what you want,” entreats frontman James Clifford on the chorus of the album’s opener, “2am, Chinatown.” He’s addressing a person spurned, or wounded, maybe a friend but likely a lover; The track meanders through late night; anyone old enough to remember being young probably has a memory or two of sad evenings spent wandering through city streets, building up the courage to call the person you care about most to talk frankly instead of playing coy. But that hangdog sentiment marries with an optimist musical scheme. It’s easy to see yourself grooving to the funk descended bass line, for one thing, and for another Clifford’s guitar strums with a modest hope, each chord and every note ringing like raindrops to cleanse his ennui.
There’s a bright, breezy quality to Echoes in the Well of Being that lends the album a transportive effect: You can feel the sand squeeze between your toes and you can feel the concrete under your shoes, you can smell the ocean air, you see the streets bathed in settling sunlight and then in the glow of lamp posts as the day ends. But it’s the way Clifford’s songwriting wrestles with uncertainty couched in that idealized environment that gives the work character. It’s the aimless drives to nowhere in particular and with no specific aim, so unmoored from any sense of time that we lose all sense of when they happen. “Take me for a ride / To some place far / Where we can be alone / And let everything go,” goes the first verse on “Wait Until Dawn,” not so much an instruction as a loose deadline. Clifford’s characters aren’t trying to get anywhere fast. The people in his songs, much like the music itself, arrive at their destination at their own pace.
It’s ironic, then, that one of Echoes in the Well of Being’ most up-tempo tracks is the ‘80s pop rock infused “Solitude/Long Way Home”: The joint moves, a perfect accompaniment for your own tour along the Pacific Coast Highway, windows rolled down so the wind can trace the contours of your hair, but Clifford’s lyrics openly defy the concerns of others about the course of his life. Buttressing the album’s portrait of a depressive California, everyone he knows, all of his friends, are leaving in one sense or another. They’re moving on to what’s next—a new town, a new career, maybe a new relationship—while Clifford’s stuck behind. But he’s okay with it. “I’m tired of this town but don’t want to move on at all,” he asserts. He’s happier being alone, even in a locale he doesn’t much care for.
Such is the character of Primaveras’ California: It’s a world where everyone’s in perpetual, disaffected motion, even when determinedly spinning their wheels in the place responsible for their disaffection. Echoes in the Well of Being is a solid debut, mixing styles and aesthetics to reflect the diverse array of styles and aesthetics that call California home: Unhurried meditations heavy on the low end, stripped down acoustic supplications, 70s dance grooves, antisocial punk angst. But the diversity serves the album’s singular purpose of revealing the sobering gloom at the core of California’s soul. It’s a lovely state worth celebrating; it’s an attenuating state worth leaving, but once you’re there, leaving is easier said than done.
Boston-based culture writer Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009 (and music since 2018). You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.