Wednesday, May 21, 2008
The Explorers' Club Loves You
I'll admit, when I first heard the Explorers' Club, I went -- "wow, that's maybe too close to the Beach Boys."
I mean, you can't not. They have it down pat, more than almost anybody's ever had it down pat, every bit of the sound, from the lush harmonies to the exquisite arrangements to the sonic trickery -- all of it. Their first single had a song on there called "Lost My Head" which just perfectly captured the vibe and innocence of the Smiley Smile sessions, moreso than even folks like Panda Bear who've tried to capture that lightning in a bottle before. And they do it without sounding remotely cheesy (or just plain sloppy) which has plagued other bands who've toyed with the form.
"How," I wondered, "are they going to sustain this over the course of an entire album? Surely their songwriting skills won't be up to the task, its not possible."
Ladies and gentlemen, its not only possible, it's happened. "Freedom Wind" is magnificent, and the reason why isn't just that they're doing the Beach Boys. There's genuine songwriting chops to back up the technique, and that's the thing that others in the past have missed. It goes far beyond "loving tribute" and is a sonic accomplishment in its own right, and a hell of an album.
Sure, there are references to the Beach Boys' various eras, and if you're a fan you'll have fun playing "spot the album." Besides the aforementioned "Lost My Head," there's also "Honey I Don't Know Why" which sounds like the best song off "Carl and the Passions." Then there's "Forever," which, despite sharing a title with a Dennis Wilson song, sounds like something off "Today," down to the mono mix. "Don't Forget The Sun" sounds like it could sit comfortably on side two of an imaginary "Smile," while "If You Go" quotes "Today," and "Last Kiss" is "Shut Down Vol. 2."
The reason I care so much about it, though, is that the songwriting is terrific. Dig the way the harmonies wrap themselves around the melody on "Don't Forget The Sun," and when the chorus comes in, it feels like a breath of fresh air on a summer day. Or listen to the lazy lilting lyric on "In The Country," which perfectly evokes its subject matter. And the rocking "Last Kiss" kicks just the right amount of ass in front of its echo-laden backing track, and then the falsetto kicks in in just the right way. Its remarkable.
The only moment the album falters are the couple places it quotes a little too heavily -- "Do You Love Me" sounds far too much like "It's OK" for comfort, down to the saxophone honkings, though its redeemed by a magnificent chorus that isn't at all period correct (thank god -- "15 Big Ones" is my least favorite era of the BB's). And the gorgeous "If You Go" sounds a bit close to "Sherry, She Needs Me," a famous mid-period outtake, though again it wields a wonderful melody that makes it worthwhile.
It goes without saying that if you love the Beach Boys, you're gonna love this, but I'll go further: if you like music you shouldn't really miss this. Songwriting-wise, singing-wise and production-wise its a remarkable achievement. Now for the hard part: sustaining this level of brilliance over two albums. I'm thinking they're up to the task.