Parks & Recreation Press

SPIN

February 16, 2006

Parks & Recreation open their new album, What Was She Doing on the Shore That Night?, with a hushed, airy ballad about stargazing by the sea. The beach is a fitting place for the Portland, Oregon-based quintet to begin, since they’re clearly influenced by the lush, sunny sounds of ’70s pop. Frontman Michael Johnson, formerly a solo artist who recorded under the name Reclinerland, takes advantage of a full backing band to create what he describes as a “genre-less pastiche of pop trends.”

The heavy mixing begins with the showtune-styled “Break Into Song.” Against a backdrop of sweeping strings, horns, and twinkling percussion, Johnson sings in a quirky, off-key delivery, “Hey this is your life / Loosen your tie / Break into song once in a while.” Later on the album, the band busts out handclaps and organs for the spunky, Merseybeat-inspired “Maybe the Moon Knows Something.”

But it’s not all bubblegum — Johnson also works tension, bitterness, and a little smut into the mix. On “The Perfect Love,” a drum loop and disco-flavored bass line set up his lyrics about AOL chatting and cyber-love. “La La La La La” pairs a singsong chorus with a story about a loveless hookup. And the band hides tales of phone sex and murder beneath jaunty piano chords on “Flat On Her Back.” Parks & Recreation may sound sugary, but they have some venom too.

By: Christine Richmond

THE BIG TAKEOVER

Parks and Recreation grew outward from Michael Johnson’s one-man-band Reclinerland, to play bright, orchestral pop-rock, with sunny horns, lilting strings, and piano straight from the Sesame Street theme. The music has a West Coast breeziness about it, plus hints of Gershwin-esque sophistication, yet underneath the elegant surface there’s something mysterious going on. The lyrics often play like narratives of suspicion and intrigue, with betrayal, death, and Internet dating in our midst. Every song is catchy to the extreme, sounding like it could be the product of a present-day Brill Building. That is, if it were a song factory which used the same crackerjack band on every song, and had a modern-day Raymond Chandler among its writers. – Dave Heaton

ALL MUSIC GUIDE

When Michael Johnson finally brought together a stable full-band lineup for his heretofore solo project Reclinerland, the singer/songwriter celebrated by changing the band name. What Was She Doing on the Shore That Night? is really a Reclinerland album under any other name, however, although it’s considerably more fully realized in terms of its arrangements. From the opening title track, which sounds a bit like Belle & Sebastian at their most resolutely downbeat, the album skips from Anglophile style to style: the plainspoken cybersex love song “The Perfect Love” has a snarky ’70s R&B feel that sounds like Edwyn Collins fronting the Divine Comedy, while the gloriously ironic “Break Into Song” has the symphonic sweep and bubblegummy melody of a classic Petula Clark side and “Danny Built His House All Spiral,” among others, recalls the great jangly guitar U.K. indie bands of the post-Smiths ’80s. Johnson’s songs are unfailingly melodic, with prolix and often quite funny lyrics, but he rarely comes across as just another clever git. Fans of the Monochrome Set or John Southworth’s quite similar take on sunshiny chamber pop will undoubtedly scarf this right up. – Stewart Mason

THE OREGONIAN

“Twee are the world”

Friday, February 10, 2006

COREY duBROWA

For those not in the habit of using the British strain of the English lexicon, the term “twee” supposedly was first used in Punch magazine back in 1905 to describe something precious, but lately has been assigned a more pejorative meaning: excessively dainty, affectedly delicate.

Like many an epithet, there has been a half-hearted effort to reclaim the word for more generative purposes, most recently with the advent of the so-called twee pop movement, as represented by U.K. act Belle and Sebastian (a Scottish cult band whose name was taken from a French children’s book about a boy and his dog, which is about as knowingly cute as possible) and U.S. groups like Olympia’s Beat Happening. While none of these bands, save perhaps the Smiths, are very well known among the general public, their music has proven surprisingly durable over the years, providing the inspiration for various strains of orchestrated pop and rock throughout the past 15 years.

Portland quintet Parks & Recreation is one such group that has fallen under the spell of twee pop’s fussy fusion of sounds.

An outgrowth of singer Michael Johnson’s solo project Reclinerland, Parks & Recreation finds Johnson throwing in his lot with former American Girls bandmate Anthony Georgis, Periscope’s Jason Hughes, Nordic’s Joe Ballman and Rally Boy’s Bob Ham, to form an outfit capable of playing anything from Posies-style power-pop to Association-like orchestrated goo, and nearly everything in between.

Their disc “What Was She Doing on the Shore That Night?” proves to be a stylish, confident debut. The cheeky “The Perfect Love” breezily spotlights the hazards of looking for love online: “For a good time, you can find me on AOL — IM me/ All I know of you is a font, but I love you.” Other tracks like “La La La La La” mimic the smart-aleck worldview of Fountains of Wayne, and “Flat on Her Back” emulates the theme song to a high-school drama production, all manic energy and neurotic, pointillist lyrics.

And while it may well prove to be too much an acquired taste for a large share of the CD-buying public, it’s a crafty addition to twee pop’s catalog of confections.

WILLAMETTE WEEK

Mike Johnson is totally into role-playing.

[POSTMODERN POP] Mike Johnson has made a name for himself as a personal sort of songwriter, making a lot of different, mostly acoustic music under the name Reclinerland, performing alone and with other musicians. In 2003, Johnson took an unexpected turn with Ideal Home Music Library, an album of fake showtunes delivered with an elaborate conceit. That recording was the swan song for Reclinerland, but Johnson continued to experiment with new sonic textures and songs that weren’t about him, eventually forming Parks & Recreation. The band’s debut, What Was She Doing on the Shore That Night? is adventurously peppered with disco-beats, orchestral arrangements and electric guitars. WW sat down to ask Johnson about his change of heart. CASEY JARMAN.

WW: Couldn’t you have released this album under the name Reclinerland?

Mike Johnson: I wanted us to do a totally different thing, and I wanted to define it. So I dug through my record collection and looked at the people I admired like Beck and Elvis Costello and the Zombies and ELO. I thought we should give those people a genre, so we called it “postmodern pop,” which is a lame name for it, but it works. We needed a new name for the group, we needed to re-do the whole thing. Starting a new band is hard, but it’s actually kind of refreshing when you know what you want to do.

Some of these tracks really wouldn’t fit in the Reclinerland mold, like “The Perfect Love,” where you sing from the perspective of an Internet creep-o.

With Reclinerland, I was writing about me. [With Parks & Rec] I was going for clarity. I didn’t want to write about myself anymore, or if I did I wanted to write about myself in a narrative like a fiction writer does. So there’s a progression of events, there’s a narrative thread from beginning to end. There are tighter rhyme schemes.

Was that harder for you?

Actually, no! It was so much easier. You can write about anything you want. One feature of postmodern pop [giggles] is that musicians take on different roles. If you listen to Beck, for example, he can sing in a falsetto on Midnite Vultures, or he can imitate Johnny Cash. He can do that because he’s neutral and giving himself to the material, and presenting people. That’s what I was trying do on this album. It’s easier to be clear when you step outside of yourself.

Does sticking to tighter rhyme schemes mean you sacrifice the meaning of a song for a catchy turn of phrase?

You might have to shift the story to fit the rhyme, but I don’t think it’s a sacrifice. The game is to take your meaning and squeeze it into a structure. That’s the fun of it. For me, it’s always more enriching to bend existing rules than to tear them down and make new ones.

PORTLAND MERCURY

Locals Parks & Recreation call their sound “Postmodern Pop,” a style fully evidenced on their latest Hush Records release, What Was She Doing on the Shore that Night? Indiepop joy. The local version.
INDIEPAGES

The name might not sound familiar to you, but this is pretty much the same band as Reclinerland, who had a few releases out on Hush. I saw them play a few months ago, and although I’d never heard of ‘em before, I was quite pleased with their sound, and they ended up being one of the highlights of the evening! The album starts off with the slow-building “What Was She Doing On The Shore That Night?”, but then picks right up with “The Perfect Love”, with its somewhat disco beat and silly (almost Arab Strap-esque) lyrics about cybersex, complete with string section and horn parts (although I could use that latter phrase to describe a few of the songs). “Break Into Song”, a piano-based tribute to showtunes that I remember being rather fond of from their live set, follows and is as delightful as you’d think. From there, the album actually keeps getting better, with jaunty (and frequently humorous) tunes and horns galore, before ending on a slower note with “A Northwest Wind”. This is a rather impressive album, and any fan of Jens Lekman or the recent Belle & Sebastian records will find plenty to rejoice for here.   MTQ=8/9
DAGGER

This Portland hand has been around for quite sometime, albeit under a different name, Reclinerland. Dunno why they changed the name (I kinda like the sound of Reclinerland ) but the band is still led by the songwriting of Michael Johnson (and also features DAGGER writer Bob Ham on drums) and his son! gs are bouncy, buoyant and easy to like. The record starts of quietly with “What was she doing on the Shore that Night” then breaks into a pack of songs that recall bouncy 80’s pop from the UK (ie: June Brides, etc.) with swelling strings , majestic horns and burbling synths. “Break Into Song” even sounds like it could be played in an off-off-Broadway show . And live Johnson and the band come off so disarmingly (and occasionally goofy- especially Johnson himself ) that you can’t help but like them. And judging by these songs, the band just might be taking over the pop world sooner rath! er than later. ( www.hushrecords.com )

TWO AND A HALF POUNDS OF BACON

Parks & Recreation are from Portland, Oregon and are about to release their debut album What Was She Doing On The Shore That Night? on the very excellent Hush label. The track below is from that album and is an homage to the grand musical spectacles of old. If the lyrics don’t give you a smile the outlandish orchestral arrangement surely will. I’m surprised this is not being used as the theme song for some hipster sitcom. Gotta dance!

LAST.FM

Wow! This is the best Hush release in (possibly) forever. Now, I’m not one for over-shadowing albums like ‘Old moon in the arms or the new’, ‘Castaways and cutouts’ or ‘Cultural norms’ in a hurry but this album is special. It’s basically a full band project from Michael Johnson (Reclinerland) and throughout the 9 tracks it produces some doozies. If you’ve been a fan of any Hush releases (especially by Blanket Music or Reclinerland) then I highly recommend this as your next purchase.

LUNAPARK 6

From Portland, Oregon got the brand spanking new debut album by “Parks And Recreation” spinning at Lunapark6 HQ. “What Was She Doing On The Shore That Night” brings a nice laid back sound something not that far off from Belle & Sebastian, Pulp, or Luna. The title track “What Was She Doing On The Shore That Night” starts off the album with a nice slow acoustic guitar and with vocals sounding a little bit like Dean Wareham and the song builds up slowly with a nice drumbeat, getting a bit louder as it progresses. Next track “The Perfect Love” changes things up a bit with a small amount of disco’ish synths and basslines, with funny lyrics about instant messaging and online dating, probably the song that reminds me the most of Pulp. “Break Into Song” brings up a cheery indie rock / twee’ish sound that got this reviewer’s feet tapping along. Other standout tracks would be “A Northwest Wind” (the loudest song on the album) and “La La La La La” (one of the more catchier songs). Fans of twee’ish indie rock and Belle & Sebastian/Pulp/Luna fans should check out Parks And Recreation, they will really enjoy “What Was She Doing On The Shore That Night.”

NEVERNEWS

Since Reclinerland released their second self-titled record (or, rather, since I bought my copy of Reclinerland’s second self-titled record), I’ve been waiting for something to match the tone and honesty.

That record was straight up pop and rock songs from Mike Johnson, who has had his turns in other bands (such as Blanket Music) but who, I think, crafts his best music while doing it on his own. Every track off of that one hit and stuck with me, catching in my head and not letting go through out a whole semester of college.

2003’s Ideal Home Music Library, vol. 1 had those same type of sentimental flares but was, essentially, too showtunesy for me (which makes sense, seeing as the whole concept behind the album is that the songs are forgotten showtunes). It was a bold move, a creative and gorgeous record but, all in all, didn’t hit me like I wanted Reclinerland to.

When I heard that Mike was changing the name of his project (after it stopped being just him and started to be – gasp – a band) to Parks and Recreation, I sort of mourned the loss of a really cool name and embraced the concept that, for at least awhile, Mike would be writing showtunes. Why did I assume the name change would signify more showtunes? I have no idea.

I was wrong.

What Was She Doing on the Shore That Night? reverts Mike and (now) co. back to the ‘good ol’ days’. Or what I (and probably only I) thought were the good ol’ days. Each song has the perfected pop/rock quality that Self-Titled 2 was full of, not to mention the constantly evolving Chad Crouch/Adam Selzer production ethic—make good songs sound good and true, no bullshit.

From such one-off titles as ‘I Tried to Date the Singer in a Band’ emerge tongue-in-cheek critiques of our times—from MSN love lives to far too self-serious people. Mike has not only succeeded in making more of those personal quips, he’s also found a good standing in atmospheric writing–‘A Northwest Wind’ is a gritty, streaked investigation of a moment without the trappings of character or sarcasm.

Self Titled 2 was, to me, a perfect album of disconnected soundtrack songs—I wanted ‘Yours’ to be in a Wes Anderson flick—and, much to my happiness, ‘Shore’ takes that sense of mutual, well-timed emotion and binds it (if only barely) together, track to track.
MYSELFMYSELF

I hope all you readers had an epic weekend of either debauchery or productivity. I had a little bit of both (okay, a lot of one, a bit of the other). Unsurprisingly, the mild winter weather didn’t hold out and what we were left with instead was a chilly, windy couple of greydays. Perfect weather, might I point out, for music listening. (Which leads into the following bit of depressing news…) My iPod conked out once and for all during a 10 block hike through what felt like a wind tunnel displaced on the streets of Philadelphia. I stopped frozan (literally) in my tracks for a few minutes, confused like that fly who will not stop slamming himself into your window in hope of escaping your home/car. Eventually I got moving again, in silence, but I left my headphones on for comfort, fearing I may never have the convenience of a 24 hour soundtrack again (crisis averted–thanks for asking). Speaking of my urban trek, check out the band names on today’s post. Both of them have a certain ring, no? Let’s look into this a bit more…

Citay, which is actually just a phonetic re-spelling of the word “city,” albeit favoring the popular, oft-sung pronunciation (see Jay-Z’s Unplugged performance and listen to the “…ain’t no love, in the heart of the cit-ay…” line for a concrete example of this). As if the name isn’t creative enough, the band’s approach to music making is basically this: take those long, somewhat misleading acoustic intros that started songs by Metallica, Led Zeppelin, and ::gulp:: Heart, and draw them out into full songs. Repeat. Now this may seem somewhat gimmicky at first, but it holds up surprisingly well over the duration of the album. Instrumentals and washy vocals intermingle over the course of the set, raising the hairs on the back of your neck with some strange, salty-cold spray. For a band with a metropolis-themed name, the sound here is decidely countrified. The hard-rocking elements of bombast appear occassionally but never explode like their ancestors, being more comfortable to ride slow in the backseat through twisting backroads that smudge and glisten.

Parks and Recreation–another difficult band name to search on the internet. At first I thought this album sounded a lot like Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, in that the lyrics were very sardonic and the untrained voice pushed to the fore of the mix. Upon further investigation, though, P & R seem to owe much more to the front yard than the basement. Songs that revolve around internet chat room romance with slightly off-kilter, ebullient arrangements pin the band to a less obvious location on the map. “Maybe the Moon…” is the poppiest, rockiest track here and benefits from an underlying layer of lyrical consideration to add to it’s repeatability. Is that a word? Repeatability? (No one cares).

Happy listening.

THE RAWKING REFUSES TO STOP

Parks and Recreation reminds me of Sarah Records and Belle & Sebastian – but are by no means a twee pop band. There’s a distinctly masculine quality to the music, in part thanks to the presence of electric guitars and Michael Johnson’s earnest-but-not-fey vocals. The five members of the band are also all male, so y’know. Saturday Looks Good To Me, and looking back, Carole King are also apt comparisons. It’s sunny, medium-fi pop music – perfect for the burgeoning hints of springtime.
LEFT HIP MAGAZINE

When Parks and Recreation sent out this demo CD of their self described “post modern” pop they had yet to be picked up by a label for distribution. The promo material included expressed their hope that their intriguing, fun four tracks would be enough to convince someone to sign them. Well, we can all be happy that the Portland-based Hush Records took the bait. The group, comprised of Michael Johnson, Anthony Georgis, Jason Hughes, Joe Ballman and Bob Ham, have since released a full-length CD entitled What Was She Doing On The Shore That Night? My demo copy only had four songs to keep me entertained, and I have to say that I was definitely disappointed when the CD came to an end.

I’m not too sure what “post-modern” pop is, but if Parks and Recreation is at all representative of this supposed “genre-less genre” than I’m hooked. They seem to have appropriated the best aspects of pop music from the last forty years and transformed it into something catchy, fun and addictive.

“What Was She Doing on the Shore Last Night?” has Belle and Sebastian-esque melodies, combined with an upbeat tempo, and a pounding bass. When I was listening to this track I kept trying to figure out where I had heard something like it before, something to compare it to. I found that I could both compare it to everything and nothing. They pull their sound from so many diverse sources that the result is quite unique.

“Break Into Song” made me smile. It reminded me almost of a late 70s, early 80s sitcom theme song. I’m not sure it that’s a good thing or not, but it definitely had me bobbing my head. The lyrics are really funny so I don’t think were supposed to take the music too seriously. Parks and Recreation are just having a really fun time making this music. “Maybe the Moon Knows Something” had an almost sixties feel to it. Clocking in at less than three minutes, there is nothing superfluous or unnecessary. Parks and Recreation really know how to give their listeners what they want and limit their songs to what is absolutely essential. You will not find any ego-boosting guitar solos on this album.

The final track slows things down and has a great acoustic vibe. It has a brit-pop feel with its lush melodies and slow tempo.

What I like best about Parks and Recreation is their complete lack of pretension and affectation, despite what you may expect from a “post-modern” pop group, whatever that may be. Everything from their music, to their promo material, to their website just seems completely genuine. I may be wrong, but Parks and Recreation seems like a great group of guys, guys you could have gone to high school with, guys you could be friends with. And this makes me want to like them, and hope that they succeed. So like Hush, I’m also going to take the bait and go out and purchase their full-length debut CD. Four songs just really aren’t enough.

KOOL KAT

When Michael Johnson finally brought together a stable full-band lineup for his solo project Reclinerland, the singer/songwriter celebrated by changing the band name, so this is “really a Reclinerland album under any other name, however, although it’s considerably more fully realized in terms of its arrangements.  From the opening title track, which sounds a bit like Belle & Sebastian at their most resolutely downbeat, the album skips from Anglophile style to style: the plainspoken cybersex love song ‘The Perfect Love’ has a snarky ’70s R&B feel that sounds like Edwyn Collins fronting the Divine Comedy, while the gloriously ironic ‘Break Into Song’ has the symphonic sweep and bubblegummy melody of a classic Petula Clark side and ‘Danny Built His House All Spiral,’ among others, recalls the great jangly guitar U.K. indie bands of the post-Smiths ’80s.  Johnson’s songs are unfailingly melodic.  Fans of the Monochrome Set or John Southworth’s quite similar take on sunshiny chamber pop will undoubtedly scarf this right up!” – All Music Guide   “It combines all of the things I like about folks like Belle and Sebastian, the Divine Comedy, John Southworth, the Decemberists, the Wedding Present and the Monochrome Set while minimizing the things I dislike. The songs are clever and occasionally dryly funny, but not in an obnoxiously showy way, with a lot of orchestral touches in the arrangements but a solidly guitar-pop basis to the melodies!” – Audities

URBAN POLLUTION

Michael Johnson recently expanded his solo project, Reclinerland, into a a five piece band and tagged it with a new name, Parks and Recreation. The switch in names appropriately reflects a notable shift in the music. As one could imagine, adding four additional members, who play cellos, drums, keys, bells and whistles, creates a much different sound. Johnson once let his expansive vocals lead his one man show by rocking the listener back and forth, sometimes slowly and sometimes more playful, like a grandpa telling stories from the pulpit that was his recliner. Parks and Recreation, conversely, takes up those playful and sometimes slow sounds, but sometimes comes off as guileless and immature.

The band claims influences such as Magnetic Fields, Belle & Sebastian, and the Flaming Lips and in some places on What Was She Doing on the Shore That Night? these influences are quite conspicuous. The album opens with the title track, which could easily be confused with sounds from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and lyrics that are both sweet and ironic at the same time: “And the moon died out behind a cloud / Spilling black ink into space / And the waves crashed down on her chase lounge / And washed her away from this place / Lie back, I’ll use my finger/ Lie back, I’ll use both hands.” This first track is one of the album’s highlights. The following one, however, crosses the line of eccentricity and passes over into foolishness. “The Perfect Love”, with talks of cybersex and IMing might have passed as funny back in 1999 but reads as vapid and desperate in 2006. It’s just not fresh. Though, somewhat begrudgingly, I must say that the song is almost saved by the catchy kick drums, horns, and a melodic cello and guitars which back up these ludicrous lyrics.

The album is not without a star. The song “Danny Built His House All Spiral” is assembled around frolicsome guitar, strings and a vocal trick used by Johnson to bring a spiral sound into his voice at one point in the song. The sound is effective, because it is not used to excess and comes unexpectedly. While a lot of fun, the track is perhaps not unlike or superior to some Belle & Sebastian we know and love.

Michael Johnson has joined forces with some great musicians; Anthony Georgis (American Girls), Jason Hughes (Periscope), Joe Ballman (Nordic) and Bob Ham (Rally Boy) and it is not the music which falters on this album. It seems that the lyrical content is too weak in spots, feeling awkward and kitschy instead of clever or witty as it seems to intend. As we must be reminded, sometimes less really is more, or at least less disenchanting.

SCOOPS

Parks and Recreation is on the same label as Shelley Short but the only thing they share is the label.

Their inspirations are ELO, Wings, Queen, David Bowie, Squeeze, The Smiths, The Cars, Blur, The Divine Comedy, The Magnetic Fields, Belle & Sebastian and The Flaming Lips, which means they can be all over the place. But what they are is laid back pop. What Was She Doing On The Shore That Night? is their debut release.

I’ve been sitting on this one for a couple of weeks and their first single, Maybe the Moon Knows Something has been growing on me steadily.
DELUSIONS OF ADEQUECY

An outgrowth of mastermind and lead singer Michael Johnson’s solo project Reclinerland, Portland’s Parks and Recreation doesn’t take itself too seriously – and this happens to be one of those greatest strength/greatest weakness situations. Inflected with a cheery pop sensibility and sometimes grating preciousness, Johnson’s vocals are not so much emotive as they are descriptive. What Was She Doing on the Shore That Night?, the first record by Parks and Recreation as a band, finds Johnson taking on big topics – romantic interludes, youthful notions of love, September 11th, falling for a lead singer in a band – with all the gravitas of a middle school musical.
Arriving about 10 years late with “The Perfect Love,” Johnson details familiar technology-as-alienation themes, peppering his lyrics with spoken emoticons. Cleverness and a solid pop chorus aside, the song is terribly dated. It’s a precious, look-at-me-I’m-witty 70s AM guitar pop with vocals that will recall a dumbed-down Damon Albarn. Answering why in 2006 we need a song about chatroom love is beyond the intellectual capabilities of this reviewer. More creative but equally annoying is “Break into Song,” a song that fills the ear with simultaneous thoughts of Burt Bacharach and the theme from a bad Bravo television series. Bringing show-tuney camp to the stifling airline industry strikes me as a particularly bad idea – for evidence see that movie from a few years ago where Gwenyth Paltrow plays a flight attendant. On this tune, Johnson’s strength at making airy pop melodies are undercut by a lack of anything to sing about other than, well, song.

More intimate and, not surprisingly, decidedly stronger is “La La La La La,” a tale of suburban love gone bad, which, unlike the worst of Johnson’s songs, lets the melodies (and not the overblown lyrics) speak for themselves. A driving kick drum leads the way over bleeping synths, and Johnson’s tale is subdued and understated. “Flat on Her Back” recalls Badly Drawn Boy and, with a player piano and a vaguely British sensibility, is a pastiche combining everything from TV, 1-900 numbers September 11th. “That’s America Flat on Her back,” sings Johnson in a rare moment of lyrical poignancy. Though it’s damn-near folky in its literary ambitions, the song succeeds marvelously. While most of this album fails not for lack of tunes, or musical ability, but for lack of subject matter, “Flat on Her Back,” like “Northwest Wind,” is evidence of Johnson’s ability to be both extremely precious and meaningful at once. After a few more broken hearts and a little more grizzle under his belt, Johnson’s lyrical abilities may soon fall in line with his musical talents.