Homemade rockers and handmade softies. Boy/girl vocals. Buzzy guitars, whirling Wurlis, honey-coated horns. Ten songs, 28 minutes.
Recorded in the Whack Ark, basements in Portland, a studio in Inglewood, a cabin in Idyllwild, hostels in Ireland, and Nashville.
AllMusic Review: While a handful of smart pop cultists know of Dale Nicholls' work with his group Spy Island, somehow he (and they) failed to become household names. Thankfully, Nicholls hasn't held that against the listening public, and he chose to give the world another chance with his next musical project, Sky Chefs.
Like most of Spy Island's body of work, Sky Chefs' self-titled debut album was largely cut in a handful of bedroom recording setups across the United States. However, Nicholls also took some of his accompanists into a proper recording studio, and Sky Chefs sounds both polished and cohesive, professional but adventurous, and with a smart, playful heart. Nicholls hasn't shaken his clear love of Pavement's melodic style, but Sky Chefs embraces a more eclectic and ambitious tone than Spy Island. Sky Chefs' arrangements feature plenty of keys and horns, adding richer textures to the tracks while maintaining the anything-goes mindset of Nicholls' earlier work.
The tone is clever but easygoing, as if Nicholls and his crew are gearing up for a Saturday evening party, and his gift as a songwriter is as strong as ever. Nicholls has a knack for spinning small but compelling tales, whether he's broke and lonely in the Mitten State ("MI Basements"), weighing the merits of spiritual versus romantic love ("Broken Heart, Holy Ghost"), or celebrating the ugly side of life in his hometown ("Ark Eyes"). Nicholls is also a sure hand with breezy but likable melodies, and he can make his tunes rock out or flow comfortably with equally satisfying results.
Sky Chefs is a strong, witty, and entertaining debut that will hopefully earn Dale Nicholls the larger audience he deserves. -Mark Deming