“The past is never dead,” William Faulkner famously wrote. “It’s not even past.” So it is with Transportation’s long-awaited Daydreams. It sounds like something you pulled from your dad’s record collection, from the relics among the worn-cornered copies of Seals and Crofts, Bread and Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat. There’s an American Graffiti vibe, too, like a moment of time captured in amber and lit in a soft (rock) glow. The 10 tracks luxuriate like honey, laconic grooves radiating outward, spreading warm sticky melodies everywhere. The sweet, swelling splendor lingers like lavender, a lush aroma that seems too big to have been made by the three men of Transportation.
Of course, it is: There are overdubs. Recorded with Nick Petersen at the old Track & Field Studios, Daydreams recreates the studio magic of the ’70s, layering keyboards, backing vocals and additional guitar tracks: not to the point of distraction, but enough to suggest a stately scope and wide-awake presence. This isn’t the baroque sound of Bacharach. Instead, it’s that of a casual drifting album, like a Dockers commercial featuring friends gathering beachside, drinking, getting stoned, hanging out.
Daydreams opens like a thematic cross between The Bleeding Hearts’ Stayin’ After Class and Hotel Lights’ “A.M. Slow Golden Hit,” with “Rock and Roll Station” and “Graduation.” The pairing casts the listener immediately back in time, securing them to tie posts with a lulling, jazzy soft-rock sound that begs for beer on the porch by sunset. Ed Crawford (once of fIREHOSE) blows a horn solo on “Rock and Roll Station,” as frontman Robert Scruggs longs for something that, in the days of BitTorrent and iPods, seems hopelessly and welcomely anachronistic. This wistful cast of mind extends to the next track, reflecting back on those teenage years over bustling British pub rock reminiscent briefly of Rockpile. Then there’s an interlude of sorts, featuring a speaker telling a crowd to “answer the bell, as often as you can.” Other speakers follow in the background, while a dreamy, two-minute acoustic folk outro plays in the foreground. It’s a mildly psychedelic elegy to the old days.
The album’s center hosts the album’s two best songs: The undulating folk-pop “Tell Me What You Want” shifts tempo from rambunctious to narcotic drift like a fickle heart, before closing with a terrific blues guitar solo. Its companion, “The Closest Word,” picks up that boogie, at least for 30 seconds, before floating into an arpeggiated prog fugue that eventually lifts to reveal supple, sun-soaked, languid blues-rock.
The ease and confidence with which Transportation move between styles is entrancing: While firmly rooted in an era and its accompanying aesthetic, the arrangements wander with the bounded abandon of associative memories, conjuring a playground of sounds from the same neighborhood. For this, Daydreams is more alluring than the sum of its influences. It’s both a loving tribute and a real exploration, embracing sometimes florid, somewhat sentimental sound without reserve.
In doing so, Daydream largely skirts soft rock’s generally negative connotations. Of course, music in its purest sense is hardly polemical, regardless of how you feel about “Rites of Spring” or G.G. Allin. Though it’s obviously difficult to divorce tunes from their original context, with time and re-appropriation, they can shed their skin, allowing us to appreciate with fresh ears. Or if not us, this works for the next generation, for whom America (the band) isn’t a necessary source of derision. Transportation certainly fulfills its name, redepositing you in a distant halcyon age, swaddling in its familiarity, sliding the ottoman beneath your feet, and returning moments later with your Mai Tai. Just relax, bro, and float on through.
Transportation plays Local 506 Saturday, Sept. 27, with Spider Bags and Inspector-22 at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $6.