Tag Archives: Big Deal Records

Under The Radar: Splitsville

It began with a four song EP given away at Poptopia.

Obviously with a name like Pet Soul, the songs were a tribute to the transcendant moments in the careers of The Beach Boys and The Beatles. Although both groups were prolific singles machines in the 60’s, each band sought to delve deeper and create more substantive work. Many consider Revolver and Rubber Soul to be the apex of The Beatles like Pet Sounds is for The Beach Boys.

Splitsville – then a trio of Matt Huseman, Brandt Huseman and Paul Krysiak – were a burgeoning powerpop act on Big Deal Records who had just broken the ice with Ultrasound, their followup to Splitsville USA. Where the latter focused upon childhood fun, Ultrasound dealt with the pain and promise of adolescence (album themes would continue with their third album; Repeater is about the responsibility and accountability of young adulthood). They were clever and poppy and lightweight; fun records, nothing more.

So much like the more mature works of the aforementioned groups, Pet Soul was a revelation. The production is spectacular, squeezing every dollop of the creative instrumentation and pitch-perfect harmonies of the band. Three years later, the band revisited the project and expanded it to a full album without missing a beat, recording in Krysiak’s words “the 1966 album that never was“. So seamless was the project that even the inclusion of their cover of a Burt Bacharach song (“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”) fit like hand in glove.

Listen to clips of The Complete Pet Soul

The centerpiece of both the EP and the full album is “The Love Songs of B. Douglas Wilson“, which captures the essence of Brian Wilson’s studio genius lyrically, vocally and sonically. It is truly a work of art, and the band members thought so as well. From their website:

Brandt: I’m especially proud of the songwriting. Musically, it was (is) the most ambitious thing I had done: the song has 5 sections that fit together. Lyrically I think it captures the innocence of the Beach Boy lyrics while touching on the darkness of Brian Wilson’s personal life. My favorite part is the finger snaps into the hand claps at the end.
Matt: In my opinion a perfect song. We were having problem with the “breakdown,” which was originally a vocal part. I suggested a theremin. Dave Nachodsky and Paul made it happen.
Paul: Brandt laid down the lead vocal late at night in the far corner of a nearly pitch black studio – just a couple of little red and blue spots shining down on him. Dave Nachodsky and I just watched and listened with our mouths agape, goosebumps rising on our arms and tears welling up in our eyes. No kidding, a truly transcendent moment.

Major kudos to both Dave Nachodsky and Andy Bopp, two studio savants who helped produce and engineer the songs. While this album sounds majestic and beautiful on anything from a computer to a car stereo to a full rig, I highly recommend you grab a pair of good headphones. This is the kind of record headphones were invented for.

Geographically separated, the band now only rarely plays live and has not issued a studio album since 2005’s Incorporated. Hopefully they will continue to record and release new material, but even if they have hung ’em up for good, their legacy is intact, The Complete Pet Soul their crowning achievement.

The Splitsville website and MySpace page.

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HTTBJ…XXOOIYD!

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Blast From The Past: The Vandalias

Pulled out this old powerpop chestnut and blasted it.

Unfortunately the band went the way of most of the powerpop bands that stormed the 90’s revival – nowhere. A brief flash, some great songs and a lot of memories for record geeks like me who treasure such things. It didn’t mean they weren’t great – they were – but as usual, without radio airplay or any muscular marketing scheme, it was rain through your fingertips.

Big Deal Records was the shit in those days; a roster to die for and a release every month or two by great artists like Splitsville, Cockeyed Ghost, Michael Shelley and The Wondermints. And the series of great Yellow Pills collections…what a time that was! Unfortunately the label didn’t last, either…and sadly, whomever co-opted the label name is doing something completely different these days.

Buzzbomb. Is there a better word to capture the essence of powerpop? Here’s my original review from TransAction

Man, these cartoon characters can rock! Incredible pop rock that hearkens back to Badfinger, Big Star and every “ooh-aah”band that took the lead from the Beatles and moved on. “Down”, “No OneTold Him” and “the faux live “Funk Monkey Baby” rip it up with Cheap Trick energy and harmonies straight out of…The Mamas & Papas?

You bet! Rock ballads too; “Say I’m Sorry” will melt the crustiest of hard hearts. Eleven great songs in thirty five minutes that will make you wonder why someone so talented shields himself behind the front of the “Vandalia brothers”. I won’t expose him directly, but if you want to pay this pop wizard some props, buy Mach V, the previous CD, and dismantle the packaging.

It’s now a decade later, so I’ll save you the treasure hunt. The Todd Rundgren-esque popster was Dan Sarka.

The Vandalias on MySpace

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Blast From The Past: The Wondermints

Fortunately for us, the profile and accessibility of The Wondermints has increased in leaps and bounds over the past decade. Their association with Brian Wilson has not only paid great dividends for them individually and collectively, but they’re done the impossible by getting Brian out of the sandbox and back onto the stage, and later the recording studio. Wilson and Beach Boy fans should have an altar with Wondermints items on it.

Here’s my original review of their self-titled album issued on (the sorely missed) Big Deal Records.

Tasty Treats!

Tasty Treats!

Years ago, a struggling guitarist named Jimi Hendrix had to break in England before his own homeland would recognize and support his talents. Thirty years later, a Los Angeles band is making ends meet by recording for a Japanese label. Fortunately, Big Deal, a New York label, has licensed the debut record and made it available and affordable for American audiences.

Anyone who has the Hollies tribute Sing Hollies In Reverse (eggBert Records, and if you don’t, stop reading and go buy it now. I’ll wait!) was no doubt enthralled with the version of “You Need Love” – picture perfect pop, the kind that allows you to plunk for a full CD without a moment’s hesitation. I did, and although this is not a pop album with “hit singles” busting out of it, most of it is jaw-dropping great. (Okay, maybe there’s a single – the Posies meet Rubinoos sound of “In A Haze” just kills me.)

“Shine”‘s shuffling beat, bongos and psychedelic guitar will appeal to anyone who enjoyed the deeper side of 60’s records, the meat behind the hit singles (indeed, one could sing Joe South’s “Hush” over this melody and not be far off). “Fleur-de-lis” has all that 1980’s Britpop bounce that will make even cynical heads spin (the piano is straight out of “Oliver’s Army”), but in place of the gruff vocal of an Elvis or Nick there’s the candy-sweet harmonies fans of this band have come to love. Yet it’s not all retrospective – slip “Thought Back” onto Jason Falkner‘s recent release and no one would know the difference – and that’s a compliment!

Brian Wilson supposedly claimed that if he had the Wondermints back in 1967, he “would have taken Smile out on the road”. While post-sandbox Brian has to be taken with a grain of salt (he recently called “Grumpier Old Men” one of the three best movies ever made), one listen to the stunning “Tracy Hide” will confirm that this was said on a day when all the sand grains aligned properly. Hypnotic and haunting, “Tracy Hide” blends the effortless falsetto choruses, harpsichord rhythms, kettle drums and other studio nuances that instantly transport the listener to The Golden Age Of Brian. If this had been the flip side of “Good Vibrations”, no one would have complained.

Besides this record, the band has a couple of (now out of print) singles, and “Carnival Of Souls”, here as the record’s closer, is featured on Yellow Pills #2. The band has also released a CD of cover songs, which – you guessed it – is only available as a Japanese import. Some things never change.

The Wondermints on MySpace

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