Trying to shed once and for all its indiepop and twee labels, the band doubles down on crunchy guitars, tight arrangements and huge harmonies. Not that they fully succeed—the band has some of its most successful pop moments here, juxtaposed with sprawling psychedelia and melancholic meanderings.
Featuring the “Circling the Sun” lineup (Allen Clapp, Jill Pries, and Oed Ronne) accompanied by return appearances from Larry Winther, Bob Vickers, and John Moremen, 2020 would encapsulate and expand on everything that the band came to be known for in its first decade.
All Music tells it like this:
Allen Clapp believes in the curative powers of pop music the way someone going to Lourdes is betting on a miracle; his faith in the stuff is so strong and compelling pretty much anyone willing to give him a listen is likely to become a convert.
2020, Clapp’s fourth album with his group the Orange Peels, is a beautifully documented catalog of his objects of worship, which go beyond the usual power pop variants common among present-day popmeisters — ’70s soft rock (“Birds of a Feather”), glitter rock (“Shining Like Stars”), emphatic ’80s pop (“The Great Outdoors”), polished U.K. psychedelia (“Emily Has Told Me Why”), the hooky end of ’70s hard rock (“We’re Gonna Make It” and “2020”), and even pastoral prog rock (“Emily Has Told Me Why”).
Clapp produced these sessions and wrote all the songs except for one (“Charmed Life,” contributed by guitarist Bob Vickers), and 2020 is a testament to his attention to detail — the performances are spot-on throughout, the melodies and lyrics are expert homages to their particular styles and eras, and the sound of this album reflects his obvious influences but generates enough life and fresh spirit of its own to avoid sounding like an exercise in obsessive nostalgia.
For anyone who loves intelligent, melodic pop music with an appreciation for the music’s golden era, 2020 should strike a chord, though lyrically Clapp speaks most clearly when he’s discussing music (either as fact or metaphor), sometimes undercutting the power of the melodies just a bit.
But the beauty and sheer joy of the music, and the gifts Clapp and his collaborators reveal are more than enough to overpower any resistance to this album’s minor flaws, and 2020 is a glorious surprise for anyone who thrives on a good hook and a powerful guitar line.