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Photo by Erik ForrssellAmid the fashionable misanthropic punk and throwaway ska the Orange County music scene once stirred, Tony Carbone never forgot the sublime bits of Orange County that inspired some of the most melodic music in America. Indeed, since Carbone formed Bikeride in Fountain Valley in the spring of 1994, he has been on a mission to make it fashionable for local bands to write fun, optimistic pop songs again. He's not alone in that campaign, of course, but he has been persistent: after six years, two albums and two EPs, he's ready for a compilation release.
Now, if Carbone were a rock star of Jagger-esque proportions, Summer Winners, Summer Losers would be his midcareer anthology album. Reproduce a few hard-to-find tracks alongside a couple of previous hit singles and kitschy cover versions of old classics, and then wait by the mailbox for the royalty checks. But Bikeride is on a nearly nonexistent record label, represented by a simple website and low-quality letterhead. Summer Winners, Summer Losers is clearly a sampler for fans who have been searching Napster for the band's more obscure tracks.
Carbone smartly begins this collection with "Here Comes the Summer," a six-minute anthem that sounds like a Beatles outtake from the Magical Mystery Tour sessions. Play it on a good stereo, and you can almost feel your brain losing itself in the fuzzy flange guitars and droning choruses. They hit perfect stride three songs later with "Carl Wilson Suite," a criminally overlooked song that, until now, could only be found on the hard-to-find Dogs 10-inch EP. Carbone makes great use of intertwining Chicago-inspired trumpets and falsetto woo-woo-woos and la-la-las. It would have been a hit single in the mid-1970s.
The first half of Summer Winners, Summer Losersrepresents Bikeride's more carefree side—simple songs with uncomplicated layers, a bit too similar to music we've heard before. It's most evident in the formulaic song structure of "Shawna," "Leigh & Nikki" and "Bean and Nothingness."
Ironically, it's a cover tune—their simplified reinvention of Chad and Jeremy's "A Summer Song"—that displays the band's originality. "Handlebars" and "The Four of Us in June" are on a level with the Dream Academy's "Life in a Northern Town" while "Estate D'Amore" should lead off the next Austin Powers soundtrack.
As with most bands that are inspired by and borrow liberally from the past (think Apples in Stereo, Lenny Kravitz and Green Day), Bikeride might have become a mere novelty act, simply regurgitating the oldies and making music by the numbers. That's where the band was headed with its first proper LP, Here Comes the Summer! It was a fine debut, but even I began to get headaches when every review began with Beach Boys references. Summer Winners, Summer Loserscharts Carbone's growth as a songwriter, showing how far you can go if you pedal backward fast. Gone is the dangerous fan worship of Brian Wilson; Carbone is finally starting to find his own sound.