Where to begin? As I’ve mentioned many times on this site, Jawbreaker was a huge band for me during my twenties. I have tried to track down releases from all three band members over the years since their disappearance, and drummer Adam Pfahler has always impressed, especially with the 2006 Whysall Lane album (still waiting impatiently for album #2), and I think I have an old 7” by a band named The Moons. I was also a big fan of Green Day, especially the Lookout! Records-era records, as well as the similarly fun and energetic Billie Joe Armstrong side project Pinhead Gunpowder, also featuring guitarist Jason White. Learning that these two were part of this new project, the Google-proof California was a clincher for me to purchase without a previous sound introduction. This trio, rounded out by bassist Dustin Clark (of The Insides and Soophie Nun Squad – unknown to me), seemed to promise a revival of the exciting East Bay punk scene from the late-80s and early 90s, where one could buy like five albums, ten 45s and a couple of T-shirts for like $30 dollars via Blacklist Mailorder. Ah, the good ole days of getting exhausted and frustrated from reading the endless dogma in the pages of Maximum Rock-N-Roll, but all the while voraciously ordering records advertised in the very pages that constantly railed against commercialism.
The album opens with the upbeat “Hate the Pilot” that recalls those Green Day/Pinhead Gunpodwer olden days, with lyrics that call out those who dislike everything for the sake of disliking, while “Same Boat” brings to mind Unfun-era Jawbreaker with Pfahler’s ever-inventive drumming, Clark’s gliding low end and White’s chiming post-punk guitar line. The next couple of songs also hint at the sounds that I had kind of expected, except not as reliant on power chords and volume, and resoundingly more adult. Then the record transitions into something much different. The songs stretch out and side one closes with “Winners” - a positive outlook on how just getting through the daily grind and surviving can be something to celebrate. Meanwhile, side two opens with the acoustic-led duet with Rachel Haden from the also much missed That Dog. It’s a song filled with a real life melancholy as it describes the final moments of a relationship that has run its course. There is no last second drama, just a simple bummer ending (“There was only a last knowing glance / A smile and a wave / Goodbye and I flew way”). Then comes along the Hammond organ adorned standout “See Your Friends” – a downtempo reminder to keep our friends close and not let the drag of depression isolate oneself. By this point, we start to realize that this album is really a simple, but incredibly performed and tastefully recorded timeless rock-n-roll album – not a pop punk record.
Now that I’m old and have heard what seems like everything, I find that new music often takes several listens before it starts to show its strengths or weaknesses. I can honestly say that California gets better with each listen.