Hidden in the Sun is, simply put, a rock band — guitar, bass, keyboards and drums with a singer. That’s it! No hyphenates. No techno-garage, no ethno-disco, no funk-jazz-soul-industrial-what-not. It’s refreshingly straightforward. Or so it seems.
As the band’s name suggests, there’s something here that’s hard to discern. Right from the start, with the title song of their debut album, "Seven Seasons," it’s all just slightly off-kilter, in the best ways. Sean Alexander’s guitar and Clara McAllister’s keyboards almost, but don’t quite, mesh. Bassist Jason Vivrette and drummer Scott Rouse don’t so much riff as flow, the music serpentines through songs stretching five, six or seven minutes, as in “Salt and the Spring” or the electric-piano-anchored “Waiting On the Storm.”
At the center, galvanizing it all, is the striking voice and approach of Lizzie Clapper. But how to describe her? If you can come up with any apt comparisons for her, pass them along. I’ve drawn a blank. Ah, but she sums it up herself, though in a different context, with a particularly poetic line on the song “Smoke Signals.” “You mistook me for smoke,” she sings.
The path that led these five to the secluded cabin, deep in the Mendocino redwoods, where "Seven Seasons" was recorded is circuitous and singular as well. McAllister and Rouse started playing together 15 years ago in Tulsa. A few years later, McAllister moved to Northern California to run a music camp, where she and guitar teacher Alexander were taken with the talents of teen singing student Clapper. And from late-night jams, a band was born, though due to various life and logistics issues it took a while to gel.
“San Francisco Blues,” alluding to where the group settled, taps into the countrified folk-rock that has typified the California sound for generations, Clapper singing a siren call to someone who’s left. Matters of identity and place thread through the lyrics, mostly by Clapper and Alexander — songs about trying to find where you belong, with whom you belong, connecting with something, or failing to do so.
So what connections can we make here? The Band? Jefferson Airplane? Big Brother and the Holding Company? A guitar lick here, an organ line there might bring these names to mind, but they’ll prove fleeting notions, and ultimately off-target.
Even at times when the music is relatively straightforward rock, including much (though not all) of the song “My Magdeline,” something about Hidden in the Sun remains alluringly elusive. Just like smoke.