Summer Fiction, the moniker of Bill Ricchini, brings to mind “beach read,” that warm-weather genre whose sunscreen-stained pages fly by quickly. Often easy and light, beach reads don’t have a reputation as great literature, but their popularity speaks to their captivating nature. There’s undeniable satisfaction in a good, straightforward story.
In its sophomore album Himalaya, Summer Fiction proves a fitting name. Filled mostly with upbeat, jangly tunes, the album is an easy and gratifying listen. Starting with the opening track, “On and On,” an anguished love song, Himalaya presents timeless pop-rock. Its melody and phrasing remind me of “That Thing You Do,” the main song from the Tom Hanks film of the same name, about a 1964 one-hit wonder band. “On and On,” like its movie comparison, is exemplary of well-constructed pop and does exactly what it’s supposed to do: make the listener feel good for three-and-a-half minutes, plus the time that it will likely remain in your head (and not unhappily so). Sometimes, there’s an added bonus of a little catharsis on the part of the audience or performer.
At its worst moments, though, Himalaya feels a little too easy. The second song, “Dirty Blond,” for example, includes the lines, “Gave me your heart on a string / It didn’t mean anything / But I returned it / You never earned it.” Following a fairly common image with a narrative whose meaning isn’t quite clear (isn’t giving one’s heart on a string usually meaningful? What didn’t she earn?), the verse illustrates the occasional feeling that Ricchini’s lyrics chase rhymes over meaning. But the chorus of thankfully redeems that—“Try not to think about your dirty blond split ends / You were my friend” conveys a striking and intimate specificity echoed elsewhere on the album.
At its best, though, Summer Fiction offers lively and polished music that successfully reimagines the Beach Boys and the classic love song. In “Lauren Lorraine,” one of the tracks in which the Beach Boys’ influence is most apparent, the boardwalk-amusement park jingle supports a simple-but-intriguing melody and a narrative that elevates romance to the level of worship. Love takes on a host of other unconventional characters throughout the album as well, including a surprisingly quiet and gentle one in the penultimate song, “By My Side,” whose acoustic strumming is much more Simon and Garfunkel than Beach Boys.
With that kind of variation in musical tone, also apparent in the all-instrumental “Manchester” and “Cathedral,” the attention that Ricchini gave to the construction of the album as a whole is evident. The small touches—the faint music at the end of “Himalaya” that bleeds into the next song, the riff from “On and On” cropping up in slow, synthy organ in “Cathedral”—hint at the effort required to make something seem so effortless. Straightforwardly enjoyable, the end result of that undertaking is perfect summer accompaniment—a beach listen for your beach read. It’s worth getting a little sunscreen on the play button.