Tag Archives: Pet Sounds

Happy Birthday, Brian Wilson

What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

I can add what a friend of mine said, because he succinctly captured the essence of wonder in a couple of short sentences.

For his son’s 20th birthday, Gary Frenay bought him tickets to see Brian Wilson on Brian’s 69th birthday, a concert in Ottawa, Canada. The band opened the show by having the audience sing “Happy Birthday” to Brian. Per Gary, “what followed was nearly three hours of music by an incredibly talented band, who lovingly supported their aging, but still – at times – quite youthful-sounding, leader. As in all of Brian’s shows over the last 9 years, the show is split into two parts. The first is a greatest hits set, with many rarities and album tracks throw in for the ever-faithful. Then after a break, the second set is his latest album in its entirety. In recent years, these have included Pet Sounds, Smile and That Lucky Old Sun

This tour, the album is Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. While that isn’t my favorite of his recent releases, it really shone as a concert piece, especially with the addition of the string section throughout. Also, Brian was noticeably in better voice for the Gershwin set. Not sure if that’s a matter of warming up, or of the material being in a better range for him. Really sounded strong in the second set.”

You must understand that Gary is a huge fan of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney; his own songs have honed that perfect intersection of their two majestic bands – arguably the best Britain and America had to offer in the 60s. But as we all watch our musical heroes and icons age, we must stop and realize just how incredible it is to see what we’re seeing forty years after the magic. Especially when at some point we all hoped we’d die before we got old.
 
So in the midst of wonderment – let alone the priceless experience of sharing something like that with your child – Gary stopped to smell the roses.
 
Not sure if I’ll get the chance again to see him perform, but really, how amazing is it that he’s still out there, doing dates all over the world, at his age, and with his well-publicized troubled past?”
 
How true. Savor the moments, rock fans. Get off your ass and don’t take anything for granted. Get thee to a club or theatre and live the music.
 
Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…”
 

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Brian Wilson, Almost

We continue this weekend’s tribute to the yeoman work done by Angelo and crew at Power Pop Criminals with a tip of the cap to Pocket Symphonies To God, the Brian Wilsonesque collection of tunes that feature a whiff of Pet Sounds and/or Smile in their sound.

Once again we’re talking about the influence of Brian Wilson’s music in original songs from artists who obviously have a little sand in their music. One of the best examples of this concept I have ever heard is Pet Soul by Splitsville, a perfect marriage of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney. In real life those two giants were trying to one-up each other, and the Beatles and Beach Boys albums of that period served and volleyed. As you can tell by the name, Splitsville’s hybrid musical opus blended Pet Sounds and Rubber Soul; their brilliant “The Love Song of B. Douglas Wilson” is one of the tracks included here.

(Note: Pet Soul was a free four-track EP first distributed at Poptopia in the late 90’s; you can purchase The Complete Pet Soul and I highly recommend that you do!)

Your Wilsonesque journey will feature appearances by such wonderful artists as Dave Edmunds, Ken Stringfellow, The Wondermints, Jeffrey Foskett, The Paley Brothers, The Nines, Pugwash and The Squires of The Subterrain, household names to most powerpop fans. The music, like the artists, is eclectic and wonderful, and hopefully you will find a new favorite artist or two and support them by buying their music.

So just click here and you’re on your way to Wilsonesque magic!

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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.

***

HTTBJ…XXOOIYD!

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Blast From The Past: Kenny Howes

Kickenbacker

When friends ask me how I can continue to get excited about finding new bands and artists to enjoy – as if a finite set of albums should be enough – I will mention someone like Kenny Howes. That’s usually followed by a statement (“Who??”) and an action (insert disc in player…turn up loud). Kenny is an example of a supremely talented artist who would be much better known if we only had a realistic process to get music to the masses. We’ve gone from freeform FM to playlists to formatted channels to American Idol, and still it takes two ears and a shitload of persistence to weed through the chaff and find the gems. 

When the powerpop movement started gelling in the 90s, there were a few magazines that centered on the movement and were critically informative to fans of the genre. Maybe not quite the lifeblood that Creem was to a disaffected suburban teenager back in the 70s, but certainly a hotbed of new names and sounds. It was there that I read about Kenny Howes and Rickenbackers and kick-ass covers and big fat power chords, and I was on that like flies on sherbert. The fact that Kenny was also a nice guy and funny as hell was just a bonus. 

I don’t want to make it seem like he’s that obscure; certainly his series of albums over the years and appearances at Poptopia, IPO and other festivals has garnered him a good following, albeit on the scale of an independent pop musician. But fame has nothing to do with quality, and I’ll stand Kenny’s albums up against anyone’s from that era. Hooks galore and a boatload of charm, and a great intersection between the delicate melodies of a McCartney and the power of The Who. If that sounds like familiar territory, all I can say is there’s a reason a bonus track on one of his albums is titled “Gonna See Cheap Trick” – and finding a more effervescent song about heading to the big rock show is a tall order. 

But enough about me

Here’s a review of Back To You Today I wrote for Consumable Online twelve years ago… 

 

Rickenbacker-wielding pop star Kenny Howes is back with his third record, yet another collection of ringing hooks and earnest vocals. The lo-fi production has its charms and drawbacks, sometimes framing songs in just the right minimalist setting but occasionally losing something in the fog bank. Overall, however, it’s another solid effort that sees Howes depart from his past formula and take a few chances. 

The title track is certainly an example of his strong suit – bouncy chorus, solid hook and quick guitar break. This formula reaches its zenith on “Exactly Like You”, a sing-along track that could lift a band out of the garage and onto a jukebox – even if it winds up being their only hit. The simple, fuzzy guitar break is perfect and you can almost see the audience swaying and hand-clapping along to the “Cathy’s Clown” beat. And underneath it all, Kenny’s trying to land a new girl by shredding all those losers he’s hit on before – like THAT will work. 

Sometimes the stretches don’t synch – “Something Really Great” sounds like Dylan doing the Monkees’ “Randy Scouse Git”, for example, and “Save You” is muddled angst. But “Never Left” sounds like the bonus track on the Pet Sounds box set, and the epic closer “Free Tattoo” sounds like Moon and Townsend sat in on the session. 

Cohesive it’s not – I think Kenny had a lot of snippets of ideas when he hit the studio and went for broke. Although you might find yourself skipping a tune here and there, there is enough immediate gratification to bring you back again, which is when you’ll discover the chestnuts that appeal to you. Howes played everything but drums (kudos to Kelly Shane) and wrote all the songs, and is a talent deserving your ear time

And he still is. Looks like we’ll be blessed with a DVD this year. 

Read up a bit on Kenny at Wikipedia and check his music out on MySpace

Kenny’s albums available at CD BABY

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Blast From The Past – The Beach Boys

The Sun Is Up...

The Sun Is Up...

Almost a decade ago, Capitol Records started reissuing the Beach Boys titles in two-fer packages, and it was a great opportunity to remember what an incredible run this band had. Like most of the acts that were huge in the 60’s, it was all about pumping out the next hit single ninety days after the last one, so your hits would pass each other on the Top 40 charts and keep up that pulse of dominance.

But like most of those 60’s acts, their zenith came in a short period of time, and as they kept pounding the boards the hits slowed down or dried up, and the albums stopped charting as high – if they charted at all. The live shows, for those who could still muster them, revolved around the legacy of oldies rather than a current, vital presence. And for those who were able to keep the engine running, creativity transformed into sustenance and the compromises that it brings to art.

Sure, The Rolling Stones are still around, but look at their studio output of the past twenty years and you’ll find four albums, only one released in the last twelve years. Even my beloved Kinks haven’t release an album in sixteen years, but at least the band isn’t out there milking it.  With Dennis and Carl sadly gone, The Beach Boys are now splintered, with Brian Wilson trying to patch the holes in his legacy, Al trying to make a living, and Mike doing what he does best – being an assclown. But this release was all about then, not now.

I loved all the releases, but this set held a special place in my heart, because I believe these two were a critical turning point in the band’s history and possibly the reason for their survival. Having grown up on their classic singles, I remember delving into Surf’s Up as a DJ and fielding calls from fans, some of whom were distraught at the direction the band was taking, some (like me) watching a band progress… like an adolescent grows into adulthood.

I wrote the following review for PopMatters in 1990…

Brother Records logo

Two of the more overlooked records in the Beach Boys canon (well, at least to those who swear by either Pet Sounds or the surf/car singles) get their due as part of the reissue of the Brother Records catalogue. Sunflower and Surf’s Up mark the point in time where Brian Wilson’s influence started to shift aside and the other band members began to assert themselves in the studio. Not that Brian is mis-represented; he’s credited on 10 of the 22 tracks, and his “This Whole World” and “Til I Die” might be the best track on each album, respectively (although I’d make a strong case for “Long Promised Road”).

Dennis Wilson is well represented on Sunflower, earning the leadoff track with the rocking “Slip on Through”. “Got to Know the Woman” takes a Jerry Lee Lewis template and slows it to a shuffle, adding doo-wop harmonies, and of course it’s about Dennis’ favorite sport. But “Forever” is simply beautiful, and probably surprised even his brothers. “Our Sweet Love” is a great showcase for Carl’svoice, and the sunny feeling of “Add Some Music to Your Day” and “At My Window” is irresistible. “Cool Cool Water” might be the strongest tie to Pet Sounds or Smile; ending the record with a reminder of just how much Brian has left in the well.

Bruce Johnston’ssongs have always sounded out of place to me—they’re pleasant but always seem to stick out thematically; Sunflower’s “Tears in the Morning” probably more so than “Disney Girls” from Surf’s Up. The ironic placement of “Disney Girls” beside Mike Love’s “Student Demonstration Time” (a lyrical adaptation of “Riot in Cell Block #9”) mirrored the emotions of the band as well as the rapidly-changing American culture as well. Johnston’s ode to the sweetly innocent neighborhood lifestyle of the post-war era was wistful remembrance; Love’s biting lyrics about getting your head cracked open was a bucket of ice water splashing across your face. (Although the band rocks, Brian Wilson stated that he never liked this song; Love probably enjoyed this moment as much as any other.) Al Jardine’s contributions are both child-like and psychedelic. “A Day in the Life of a Tree” still sounds like a funeral march, which in a way, it is. But Carl’s sweet “Feel Flows” and Brian’s introspective “Til I Die” dominate the second half of the record, capped off by the eloquent title track.

The packaging and liner notes are superb—lots of great photos, an informative essay by Timothy White, and faithful reproduction of the original cover art. Why Capitol decided to use the horrible green and purple logo for the CD instead of the superior Brother Records logo (or even the famous Capitol swirl!) is beyond me, but considering how much time this CD will spend inside my player, I guess it really doesn’t matter.

...And So Is The Surf

...And So Is The Surf

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