Song In My Head #13: Zumpano’s “Wraparound Shades”

Like 99.999% of the alt-pop listening public, I consider myself a fan of Canadian supergroup the New Pornographers. Even so, I can’t help but bristle when critics fawn over lead singer Carl Newman’s work with the NPs, while neglecting his stellar mid-’90s band Zumpano. In 1995, Sub Pop released the debut album Look What The Rookie Did, to my fervent delight. (I remember telling an e-mail buddy that the band sounded like “Henry Mancini conducting the Zombies.” He was skeptical to say the least. Within days, he was extolling the album’s virtues to everyone on our newsgroup, begging them to buy it in spite of the cover art featuring a flaming van.)

It’s true that Zumpano wore its influences on its sleeve: the aforementioned Mancini, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb (a cover of “Orange Air” was the “Wraparound Shades” B-side), even a dose of the vintage bubblegum that suffuses my favorite New Pornographers songs. (I wanted to include Zumpano’s “The Party Rages On” in my Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth survey of 1990s bubblegum, but space constraints forced me to leave it out.) Even so, there was a pleasingly off-kilter feel to the songs that prevented them from becoming derivative or kitschy. In interviews, Newman has noted that he was new to songwriting at the time, and couldn’t really do straight homages to the likes of Bacharach. I would argue that Newman (at least subconsciously) wanted to subvert the easy-listening aspects of the singer-songwriting genre: he had been leading Vancouver act Superconductor, known for its very heavy sound and unusual song structures, for several years at this point. Meanwhile, I loved pop craftsmanship but couldn’t handle its more cloying arrangements. Zumpano’s unexpected chord changes and time-signature switches really appealed to me, and still do. (Hey, the band hasn’t officially broken up in all these years, so I hold out hope.)

Behold the glory of “Wraparound Shades”:

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