Friday, March 27, 2015

Okay, the Beach Boys Opinion Page is Going to Try Facebook.....

We're going to give it a go on Facebook folks. As I mentioned some time back, the idea is that perhaps I'll be able to offer more commentary and news and whatnot over there, while still putting stuff up regularly here, usually more in the long-form area (e.g. the reviews of tracks below).

So you can check us out at:

As you can see above, Brian has more hands-on experience with Facebook than we do, so do whatever you can to spread the word about our Facebook page and the blog here. I only ask that so I can at least feel like somebody's reading this stuff. I'm still getting the hang of what works and what doesn't; our Facebook page is a "Page" rather than personal one, so it really has to rely on folks coming across it and recommending it. I can't send "friend" requests and whatnot for a Facebook "page" that isn't a person one. 

In any event, let's hope this all works and spurs some activity and creativity.

Review - "Guess You Had to Be There" - Brian Wilson (featuring Kacey Musgraves)

Now also up for listening online (though not as a purchase) is Brian's collaboration with Kacey Musgraves, "Guess You Had to Be There." 

Continuing the trend of previewing the "guest stars" leading up the album's release, "Guess You Had to Be There" offers an inoffensive four-chord (more or less) slower tempo pop song, with plenty of country arrangement accoutrements to remind us that Musgraves is from the Country section of the record store. (The figurative record store for the most part, since few exist now... that's an opinion piece for another time of course). 

As with most duets of this nature, the two fanbases probably don't know a ton about the other artist. On this track, Musgraves offers a pleasant, straight-forward lead vocal, punctuated with some bits from Brian. The song's simple nature becomes a bit repetitive, although Brian and Kacey have arranged some nice backing vocal arrangements for the track; these are probably the highlight of the song. The song isn't overtly "Country", but rather simply adds a few key Country-ish bits on guitar to land enough in Musgraves' wheelhouse to hopefully please her fans as well. 

I can't offer much else to say about the track. It sparked a huge "autotune" debate on the Smiley Smile board. I honestly don't know if it's on here or not. Musgraves' vocal certainly has a sleek sound to it with a sheen that sounds like it could be either autotune or a good gob of  processing (reverb, double-tracking, the usual). 

I would rate this as inoffensive, middle of the road. A different lead vocalist at least makes things a bit more interesting, and Brian does have a clear knack for arranging female backing vocals; though we don't get to hear that too often.

Review - "Sail Away" - Brian Wilson (featuring Blondie Chaplin & Al Jardine)

The third track from Brian’s album to be (sort of) released, “Sail Away” stands out as the strongest yet. It seems the pattern of unveiling tracks from “No Pier Pressure” involves an emphasis on the tracks featuring guest stars. While the previous two tracks (“The Right Time” and “Runaway Dancer”) have been made available for purchase online, “Sail Away” has thus far only been made available via an exclusive online stream (on the Wall Street Journal website of all places; it seems each new track is being “premiered” via a different website).

The track features Blondie Chaplin and Al Jardine joining Brian on lead vocals. While “The Right Time” was essentially nearly a Jardine track penned by Brian, “Sail Away” features a trade-off among all three lead vocalists. Blondie takes the first group of verses while Brian takes the second go around. Al sings all of the choruses more or less. There are times when he and Brian’s voices both seem to sing together on the chorus, along with group vocals that pop in and out. Much like the “That’s Why God Made the Radio” album, the style of mixing often features lead vocalists overlapping or doubling, and sometimes it all gets churned together with other backing vocals. It’s a sometimes frustrating mixing style, to meld lead vocalists together (we’re not talking about two-part harmony), but that’s only present here and there.

The song itself is a delightful mid-temp bouncy pop song; a bit of “sea chanty” style is thrown into the mix arrangement wise. Many have noted some similarities to “Sloop John B”, although I would say the only obvious reference to “Sloop” is the flute riff heard several times during the song. As always, there are intermittent robust backing vocals. The falsetto vocalist isn’t super evident; it doesn’t sound overtly Foskettian (it will be interesting to see how much of Jeff Foskett’s 2013 vocal work ends up being held over on the album), and the live “Soundstage” take sounds similar enough that it could be Matt Jardine on the studio version as well. (It’s unclear if Brian Eichenberger, who stood in for the falsetto parts at all of the post-July shows in 2014, was part of any studio sessions).

Blondie’s vocal is deep and robust. Al once again shines, stealing the show with a pristine lead vocal. Brian sings in the same register as Blondie on his turn, and the vocal sounds heartfelt and in a sweet spot range-wise for Brian. All in all, this is the best of the tracks that have been released. The song itself is nice, the vocals are top notch, and one can’t help but feel some warm feelings hearing these three guys trade off on vocals.

No, this doesn’t sound like it could have been on “Holland” or anything. This sounds like the kind of stuff Brian writes and arranges now. More and more, it’s becoming a surprisingly simple yet ingenious move for Brian to essentially use a variety of lead vocalists as tools/instruments to flesh out his musical ideas. It becomes the most awesome of fringe benefits that it allows some great vocalists to be heard who haven’t heard as much lately, like Blondie and Al. The songs don’t sound like they’ve been written to set up a contrived “Duets” format. Rather, it sounds like Brian’s writing songs and not worrying about changing the key, and is seeking out vocalists who can realize what he’s writing.

Whether it’s coincidence or not, Brian seems to lately enjoy a group format in some way or another. One of the best parts of the 50th Anniversary was that Brian didn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. But he was still able to participate, and still able to form all the musical ideas behind the scenes. It may be that he was still in this frame of mind after the demise of the reunion, and followed this idea to its next logical conclusion. It was of course an additional potential selling point/angle that he would be able to integrate younger artists into the fold. That he also used old timers like fellow Beach Boys as well speaks to the idea that Brian wants the best vessel for his musical ideas rather than a contrived “Duets” album.

"Sail Away" is also available to view on YouTube via the live "Soundstage" performance. Again, it looks like a marvelous show.

Review - "Runaway Dancer" - Brian Wilson (featuring Sebu Simonian)

The second track to be made available for purchase from “No Pier Pressure”, “Runaway Dancer” is a relatively rare foray into something approaching a modern, contemporary pop chart sound. Written and performed with Sebu Simonian from the duo “Capital Cities”, “Runaway Dancer” ultimately offers some interesting musical hooks couched in a production and arrangement style that not surprisingly has caused some divisiveness among fans.

Musically, the song is relatively straightforward. Brian starts the song off singing the first verse in a lower register. Sebu offers some higher register vocals, though his voice is usually couched in several vocal parts, so it’s difficult to hear his singular voice. The track is underlined by a techno-ish beat which, along with some bleepy keyboard parts and slightly staccato guitar makes the track sound much more like “Capital Cities” than Brian Wilson.

However, it appears Brian probably wrote most of the composition, with Sebu offering input as well. It sounds like the production and arrangement is where the track took on the contemporary sound that Capital Cities fans would be much more familiar with.

With any track like this that not only deviates from the norm, but seems to cater (some would argue pander) to younger listeners, the issue can divide fans. Extremes are jumped to quickly. You sound like an old curmudgeon if you suggest Brian is pandering. Conversely, if you like the track, the accusation sometimes is that you’re a sycophantic Brian fan who will “like” anything he does.

I’m inclined to say the techno-ish sound is not to my liking; regardless of the motivation in using it. Its ubiquity in terms of modern pop trends is certainly part of this. I didn’t know I had already heard a Capital Cities song until I tried one out and realized “Safe and Sound” is the annoying song that seems to be playing every time I go into the mall.

Still, “Runaway Dancer” has some interesting hooks. It can get stuck in your head, which may or may not be a good thing. The more jazzy chord changes on the transitions between bridge and transitions after the verses (also heard in the intro) sound interesting. The use of saxophone (not something I’m usually enamored with) does give the track a bit of an interesting twist and deviation that puts a bit of a Brian stamp on this one.

Ultimately, the track is about as successful as such a foray could possibly be for Brian. I think this one is a solid album track. I may not go back and seek it out often, but as I often say, one track like this is okay. If Brian had cut an entire album in this style, it would be more grating.

Also worth noting is that a live version of the song from the “Soundstage” taping from December is up on YouTube, and it understandably and refreshingly sounds somewhat less synthetic and processed. It might be a preferable version to some folks.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review - "The Right Time" - Brian Wilson (Featuring Al Jardine & David Marks)

“The Right Time” is the first non-single single to be officially issued from Brian’s “No Pier Pressure” album. That is, it is the first track to be available for purchase. There are few physical single releases these days (and sadly at this stage indie vinyl singles seem more common than CD singles). As it is, it doesn’t appear that “The Right Time” is even a “download” single. It’s not flagged as a “single” on iTunes as some other “singles” are.

In any event, you can buy the thing as a download on iTunes and Amazon, and, if you “pre-order” the album digitally, it allows immediate access to the track. Being the schlub I am, I bought this track as a digital download even though I’ll be buying it again as a physical CD release.

“The Right Time” is billed as “Featuring Al Jardine and David Marks.” The former is much more prevalent and discernable. In fact, the track surprisingly features Al singing most of the lead vocal, with Brian only popping in occasion on answering bits on the choruses. For all intents and purposes, this is a new Brian-penned Al Jardine track.

The song is a laid-back, mid-tempo pop track. It opens with a slightly weird organ riff, sounding for a few seconds like the opening of a Santana song or something. It then immediately moves into a slightly jazzy, light sound that for better and worse is a bit evocative of 70s easy listening. Al’s voice sounds great on the track. An epic “is it autotune?” debate/war broke out online, with no clear answer. Whatever the answer, the effect on the vocal is far less prevalent or annoying as compared to something like “From There to Back Again.” Al may just be double tracked with some additional effects. Or slightly autotuned. If we can’t tell for sure, then it must not be too bad.

Another item less up for debate is that, yes, the chorus on this song pretty much lifts the chords from the chorus of 1998’s “Lay Down Burden” off Brian’s “Imagination” album. The melody over those chords is similar too. This will only be distracting to those familiar with the older Brian track. That Al is singing “The Right Time” instead of Brian helps in terms of avoiding the track sounding too similar. The track has the expected layered, lush harmonies. It sounds like Matt Jardine doing the falsetto bits, which is quite refreshing, especially the soaring falsetto bits during the vocal breakdown in the middle section. Dave’s guitar licks sound fine; they fit in with the sort of 70s jazzy easy listening vibe of the song. As with his work on “That’s Why God Made the Radio”, the guitar work is impeccable and also probably indiscernible as Dave to all but those who are specially attuned to his playing style.

Ultimately, the track is enjoyable but not mind-blowing. Which is okay. I think the quality and tone of Al’s voice turns a rather middle-of-the-road song into something more interesting.
It’s also worth noting that a slightly more organic, less processed sound can be heard on the live take of the song from the PBS “Soundstage” special. That clip is available online on YouTube.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"No Pier Pressure" Album News and Tour News, Future Plans for the Blog

Hello those who are still reading! As per the usual, the lack of posts here has more to do with posting over on the Smiley Smile board and losing steam in posting essentially very similar (if hopefully more planned and formatted) thoughts here.

I’m working up some sort of Facebook page for this blog so I can perhaps use both in tandem in a more effective way; perhaps posting shorter thoughts and news bits on Facebook and posting essays and reviews here. Please keep an eye out here, as I’ll hopefully have a Facebook link here very soon.
In the meantime, Brian’s album is close to release. You’ll definitely be seeing a review of the album here. As you can see above, Target is going to be offering an “exclusive” version of the “deluxe” version that adds two tracks. This will mirror that bonus tracks found on the Japan pressing and apparently the Canadian pressing. Assuming one can track the Target version down, the headline here is that the Target version is the one and only US fans will need to track down. The two bonus tracks, as reported around the net ages ago, will be an unknown version of “Love and Mercy” (best bets among fans is that it will be some sort of new version, perhaps a stripped down version similar to his live renditions, to tie into the upcoming movie), and oddly but tantalizingly the 1975 recording Brian made of “In the Back of My Mind.”

Brian’s PBS “Soundstage Special Event” will be airing in April. Dates vary from market to market. Several tantalizing clips have been released on YouTube. It looks like it will exceed my expectations quite a bit.

There's also a rumored/tentative April 2 date for an appearance by Brian on "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

Several songs from the album have also been released/previewed online. “The Right Time” and “Runaway Dancer” are available for purchase, and “Sail Away” has just been previewed as well. It looks like “Saturday Night on Hollywood Boulevard” has also just been aired as well. I may try to do a sort of “pre-album” album review touching on the songs we’ve heard so far.

As you all probably know well by now, Brian has a North American tour set up for June and July. He will be joined by Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin. As I write this, it now appears Brian also has UK dates set for September (whether Al and/or Blondie or anybody else will be on that tour us unknown). Here are the dates (the UK dates in particular are rumored/tentative as I write this):

18    Saratoga, CA –The Mountain Winery
19    San Diego, CA – Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay
20    Los Angeles, CA – The Greek Theatre           
23    Austin, TX – Frank Erwin Center
24    Dallas, TX – Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie
26    Atlanta, GA – Fox Theatre
27    Nashville, TN – Carl Black Chevy Woods Amphitheater       
29    Philadelphia, PA – The Mann Center for the Performing Arts
30    Wantagh, NY – Nikon at Jones Beach Theater

1    Holmdel, NJ –PNC Bank Arts Center
2    Boston, MA –Blue Hills Bank Pavilion   
4    Toronto, ON –Sony Center
5    Detroit, MI – Fox Theatre
6    Chicago, IL – Ravinia Festival       
8    Denver, CO – 1STBANK Center   
10   Las Vegas, NV – Chelsea Theater at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas   
12   Seattle,  WA – Benaroya Hall - S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

18    Liverpool Echo Arena
19    Cardiff Motorpoint Arena
20    London The O2
22    Birmingham Barclaycard Arena
23    Nottingham Capital FM Arena       
25    Leeds First Direct Arena   
26    Manchester Arena
27    Glasgow The SSE Hydro