Golden Boy

Golden Boy

You can’t blame Goldenboy’s Shon Sullivan for taking a little breather. Since the release of his band’s 2003 debut Blue Swan Orchestra –– a KCRW favorite that featured guest vocals by Elliott Smith on “Summertime” –– Goldenboy has trekked near forever on the road, supporting the likes of Bright Eyes, Neil Finn, Stephen Malkmus and Grandaddy. For most of these shows, our Goldenboy was doing double-duty as well, playing multiple instruments with Finn, the Rentals, Eels and others on tours across America, Europe and all points in between.
Straight outta suburban Diamond Bar, a few miles southeast of Los Angeles, former music student Sullivan had been spotted as a valuable player early on, first as a member of Spain. When Elliott Smith got wind of Sullivan’s prowess on guitar, piano and cello, he quickly drafted him into his band; while performing with Smith, Sullivan began developing his own material, and thus the Goldenboy concept was born.
“It started as a solo side project,” says Sullivan. “I started writing the first record while I was playing for Elliott, which I did for four years. Everyone had nicknames on the tour, and ‘Goldenboy’ was mine, ‘cause I was a guy from the faraway hill country or something. It stuck.”
A hauntingly lyrical batch of indie-pop brilliance, Blue Swan Orchestra was recorded with drummer Bryan Bos and bears distant traces of Smith’s influence. Goldenboy's second release, Underneath the Radio (2006), found Sullivan and Bos in a gloriously unclichéd outpouring of tunes drenched in nostalgic melancholia and blissful melodic invention; they’re joined by a cast of heavies including Neil Finn, Lisa Germano, Scott McPherson, Matt Sharp and Phil Jordan.
The new Sleepwalker dovetails nicely with the understated charms of Goldenboy’s first two albums. The hard-charging yet plaintive “Different Moon” starts the set with a gentle vocal urgency and an insistent drive; there’s “a different moon on the rise,” Sullivan sings. Typically untypical is the way his soothing pop harmonies dart into the dark, revealing an emotional intricacy never far from the surface. In the layered guitars of “She Belongs to Me” or the playful piano of “Chelsea Girl,” with its classic ‘60s-‘70s chord progressions and slide guitar frills, there linger shades of Bowie/Mott, perhaps. “Body and Soul” justifies its five minutes-plus in a hurtling mini-odyssey whose buoyant rock thump wrapped in twinkly guitars and fleet trumpets undergoes beautifully curious harmonic twists for suggestive shifts in expressive terrain. Sullivan’s use of several vintage keyboards and a crystal microphone found in a second-hand music store in Australia give songs like the wistful “Anna Said” (“It’s all just a memory…”) a persuasive, comforting sound you never want to end.
Sleepwalker was recorded at Interstellar and Leaning Pine studios by Sullivan and Jon Crawford, and mastered and sequenced by veteran engineer Don Tyler, who mastered all of Elliott Smith’s albums. Tyler has given the album an inviting warmth that’s a relief from the hectoring tones of most contemporary rock recordings.
“It all has to do with not looking at the clock, taking our time, and trying to really develop the arrangements and the feel of the sound,” says Sullivan. “The ambience thing was important.”