“Be kind to the bees, be kind to the bugs, be conscious of others, be careful with drugs,” recommends Culture Abuse’s vocalist David Kelling on “Bee Kind To The Bugs” before offering up this important reminder: “Be kind to yourself, even though it gets hard, don’t let the distractions stack up to the stars.” It’s that kind of mindset that flows throughout the band’s second full-length (and first on Epitaph) Bay Dream. While the band’s 2016 debut, Peach, garnered a passionate fan base, the actual events surrounding the recording were less than ideal for the band. But the continuous touring on Peach opened Kelling’s mind to how cathartic and positive and that he would be loved just by being himself.
What followed that period in Culture Abuse’s life is the summer-ready, jam-heavy Bay Dream – one of 2018’s most addicting and soul-cleansing records. Gone are the fuzzed-out riffs and Kelling’s guttural growl, replaced by the breezy surf vibes of the album’s title track and the infectious care-free attitude of “S’Why.” Essentially, Culture Abuse traded in their Pissed Jeans for something a little more Oracular Spectacular – a vibe that paces the aforementioned album highlight “Bee Kind To The Bugs.” Songs like the dazzling “Dip” and laid back “California Speedball” show off the youthfulness to Kelling’s new vocal approach, while “Calm E” and “Dave’s Not Here (I Got The Stuff Man)” recount some of the crunch of Peach’s guitar parts (courtesy of guitarists John Jr and Nick Bruder). The opening dissonant riff on the former is instantly memorable while the beefy chords on the latter seamlessly compliment its whirring synth parts.
There’s still an undercurrent of melancholy within Kelling’s blissed-out lyricism – the garbage-rock swagger of “Dozy” is basically a middle finger to responsibility, “Rats In The Wall” showcases that same love-hate relationship with the big city that Peach grappled with, and the title track is a heart-wrenching reminder of the all the band’s loved ones that get left behind when they hit the road. But instead of dwelling in those feelings for too long, Kelling approaches these moments with a smile seemingly plastered on his face and searches for the bright side in each situation. Bay Dream’s closing track, “Bluebird On My Shoulder,” is the album’s heart and soul, channeling the aura of a California sunset on the beach (thanks to the ethereal groove provided by the rhythm section of bassist Shane Plitt and drummer Ross Traver) as Kelling croons, “A lonely road until you came on to my side/Always stay close, always show me the bright side.”
With so much bad shit going on in the world right now, it’s refreshing to turn to an album with a realistic yet positive approach throughout. The record’s ten tracks showcase a heartfelt understanding of how important it is to surround yourself with love – from your friends, your family, just people in general. Culture Abuse defied whatever expectations there were for the band and created one of the most captivating and genuine rock and roll records of 2018. Bay Dream is a love letter to California, a love letter to his mother, and maybe most importantly a love letter to David Kelling himself.