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August 2004
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October 2004

Everybody SMiLE

If you’re wondering where we’ve been, the answer is waiting for the release of Brian Wilson’s SMiLE. The wait is finally over. If you haven’t already heard, Brian Wilson’s unreleased masterpiece has arrived. Most of you have probably heard the story of the most famous album that never came out. SMiLE was to suppose to be the follow up to the critically acclaimed Pet Sounds album. For those of you that haven’t heard the amazing story behind this record, it’s fascinating and you can do a web search under “Brian Wilson’s Smile” and come up with a ton of information that really is interesting.

This SMiLE release is not a rehash of old recordings, this is not a cobbled together project using existing material or old material. This is a brand new recording, the only complete recording of the project Brian Wilson started working on all those years ago. There have been bootlegs, and the label and the Beach Boys released various versions here and there over the years, but it had never been finished, or really ever recorded the way Brian had envisioned it. Inspired by his wife, friends, and I think most importantly his band; Brian has finally completed and recorded SMiLE, just the way he meant it to be.

Given the 37 years that have gone by since Brian started working on SMiLE, it didn’t seem likely that it would ever be completed, and if it was every recorded completely and properly, just how good would it be? Brian’s voice isn’t what it used to be and a lot has happened in music over the years.

Some of the original songs written for SMiLE that were recorded in a commercial form and put on Beach Boys records in the 70’s as singles, like Heroes and Villains and Good Vibrations, somehow work better as a part of these suites, tied together by fantastic orchestral pop with strings, bells, oohs, ahs, whistles, guitars and other odd instrumentation (hammers?). As many different bootlegs and versions I’ve heard over the years of what was supposedly from SMiLE, none of it worked as well as the end result. This is that rare gem of a record, in which the sum truly is greater than the parts.

This is a milestone and career highlight from one of the founding fathers of modern power pop rock. SMiLE is an album that combines stunning orchestral arrangements with incredible vocal harmonies and great instrumentation. You have to hear it to believe it. Rolling Stonehas given it 5 stars and it’s currently the best selling CD on
I have a feeling this one will hit a lot of year-end best of lists. I’m normally wary of any critic’s darlings, where certain bands get on there just because…I mean, has Radiohead really done anything great since OK Computer? If I’m to believe the hype, everything they touch is gold. Well it’s not, and neither is everything Brian does. Fret not, SMiLE is not one of those albums that critics will gush about to be hip, then you get it home and it disappoints. It’s all they say it is…well worth the gush. But enough already...go get this record now! Best of the year for me, and I don’t foresee that changing.

Just how influential is Brian and his long awaited SMiLE release? It seems Matthew Sweet set out to make his own SMiLE with his new album “Living Things.” He even got Van Dyke Parks, Brian’s partner in crime on SMiLE to help him. The result is a wonderful and beautiful pop record. It’s unfair to compare it directly to SMiLE because it can’t beat that, but it is somewhat of an ode. Matthew has been heavily influenced by Brian’s Pet Sounds and SMiLE and this record is a wonderful tip of the hat, that truly showcases Matthew’s own pop genius. Again, it’s the wonderfully quirky choice of instruments, sounds and arrangements that make this record work. From marimba to chimes and percussion, it’s refreshing to here one of my favorite artists stretch his artistic muscles. This is my favorite Matthew Sweet record, even though my two favorite songs from him are from different records. This record stands up as a whole much better than any of his previous releases. For those of you already in SMiLE camp, you’ll want to pick this one up.

There are 2 more releases for power pop fans, and Wilson fans in particular to pick up. This is the time to be a power pop fan! Jeffrey Foskett is Brian’s musical director, guitarist and vocalist on all of his tours. Jeffrey is also all over the new SMiLE release. He’s never had a nationally distributed solo release here in the US. He lives in California, but has just released solo material via the internet and in Europe in Japan. He’s had some hits in Japan and now his making his official US debut with the release of Stars In The Sand on the new power-pop label, The Pop Collective. Jeffrey has played with everyone from Paul McCartney to Eric Clapton. His new release has a definite Beach Boys influence. There are guest performances on the record from Marshall Crenshaw and by Brian Wilson himself. These are fantastic songs with incredible production and vocal performances. This isn’t some indie sounding solo release. There are big things on the horizon for Jeffrey once people hear his talent. Check out the song Thru My Window…incredible…sounds like a power pop hit from the Beach Boys. It’s available right now online from the label, and comes out in stores on November 16. For more information check out the label site:

The other release you can also buy from The Pop Collective is the best Brian Wilson tribute CD ever, Making God Smile. It features a lot of songs from the Pet Sounds and SMiLE era and great performances by some incredible artists. There’s an instrumental version of Heroes and Villains that is absolutely amazing, and the version of Good Vibrations is stunning.

Surf's Up

Guest post by Dave Danglis

There are a number of worthy new releases to mention, so I hate to be talking about stuff that's not so new. But here goes.

Destined to rank very highly on my year-end Best-of-2004 list: Local Warming by Laika and the Cosmonauts. The CD came out in January, but it remains high on the rotation over here. Sure, it's surf, but it's so much more. The band is from Finland -- do they have waves out there? -- and while they might be considered surf revivalists, they mix in other styles and instrumentation. The result is a ton of fun, almost always entertaining, and almost never predictable -- which is what so much other surf stuff can be.

How many surf albums do you need in your collection? Until hearing these guys, I would have said one or two. Heard one, you've heard 'em all. But that was before I heard Local Warming. I've since purchased Absurdistan and The Amazing Colossal Band, and am on the lookout for a copy of their first album, Instruments of Terror. Dave's "Band of the Year?" Could be.

If you can get past the kooky and cartoonish artwork of their 1994 CD, The Amazing Colossal Band, you're in for a great time. Especially if you love organ, which they go absolutely nuts on. (whoops, correct grammar: "...upon which, absolutely nuts they go.") IMO, 1997's Absurdistan was a bit of a retreat and not as original, but they've come roaring back with Local Warming, which is the most eclectic and well-recorded CD of the three. They've updated their sound, in terms of both style and sonics -- not unlike what Combustible Edison achieved on their final album, The Impossible World.

More points in their favor: they don't appear to take the surf style, or themselves, too seriously. So go have some fun and check these guys out. (They're playing in NYC on the day this post was written, which is killing me. Wish I was free to make the 5-hour trip...!)

Okay, so I'm feeling a little out-of-date, basking in a style that dates back 40+ years. But hey, isn't retro the thing these days? Look at the current crop of cars: New Beetle, PT Cruiser, T-bird, Chevy SSR...

And coming soon -- reviews of the new Matthew Sweet and Jeffrey Foskett CDs.