Greater California’s Somber Wurlitzer boasts what is quite possibly the most honest combination of band name and album title, as far as an indication of sound goes. The band’s previous work was already heavily steeped in ’60s California pop, and the acquisition of a Wurlitzer leads them to create a song cycle featuring the instrument. The resulting sound is rightly pegged as “warm and melancholy,” but not a far cry away from the wind-swept pop latent in their standard songwriting. “The Appearing,” the disc’s lead track, is the strongest here. The Wurlitzer is used to full effect, evoking dark undercurrents and languidly stretching the music into Knife in the Water territory. The follow-up, “Missing Summer,” is even more interesting, as the song’s sprightly pace slows down so much between verses that it almost becomes a dirge.
While it’s true that these self-imposed sound restrictions fence in the writing, the band explores its pastures thoroughly. Since this is the band’s first real experiment with a new instrument, they fall back on their summer-y roots occasionally. There’s little to draw complaints, as the album is full of undeniably tight songwriting and familiarity reeking of derivation. “May Day,” with its Belle & Sebastian inspired piano line and elegant Bacharach arrangement, should be the most played out moment on the disc, but the group still pulls it off. Somber Wurlitzer definitely isn’t a reinvention of the wheel, but it does show that adding another spoke from time to time can make the ride more enjoyable.