Week 43 (Just A Band 3)

beach_boys-pet_sounds

Artist: Beach Boys
Album: Pet Sounds
Release Year: 1966

My Perspective

Imma let you finish, but Pet Sounds is one of the greatest music albums of all-time. When I say greatest, I literally mean greatest. In many GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) album lists, Pet Sounds is listed at not #7, not #6, not #5, not #4, not #3, but #2 or #1. That’s right. Top 2. I’m sure there exists lists where it is rated lower, but I haven’t seen it happen in any of the lists that I read. That’s how often it is rated at the top. If Pet Sounds was your classmate, they would destroy the curve every single time. And you would curse them under your breath for being so damn good. On top of that, this year is the 50th anniversary which makes this review even more special to me.

I didn’t grow up during the era of the Beach Boys’ original popularity and my knowledge of their ‘80s resurgence is limited to an episode of Full House and a Tom Cruise movie. So while some grew up with them being America’s Band, I honestly didn’t know much about them until later in life. To me, they were that surfer band with some good songs. Actually, my first real interest of the Beach Boys came in college because of the song, Brian Wilson, by the Barenaked Ladies. Why would they make him the subject of the song? What’s so special about him? A lot, actually. Brian Wilson had an incredible influence on the music industry most notably through his innovation in the recording studio. With his complex and eventful life, he is definitely deserving of further investigation. I’m sure you can find numerous biographical videos on YouTube.

Album’s Star Power

What Do You Have to Say for Yourself? Gold Star
This album is going to make you ashamed that you spent a measly $7.99 on your current pair of ear buds or decided your Apple ear buds were “good enough”. This is one of the most beautifully recorded albums in the history of music. Every time I listen to this album, I am blown away with how good it is. It’s also incredibly hard for me to be tired of it, even after listening to it on repeat for multiple weeks. I still continue to notice new things I hadn’t caught previously. There is so much depth here. The way everything is arranged among the numerous gorgeous layers of traditional and non-traditional instruments makes you wish you had spent more money on your audio setup. Your ear is pleading with you, on every note, to give it the most authentic experience possible. Your ear wants to hear it as Mr. Wilson intended it. Every muddled instrument is an ear tragedy. If this album doesn’t make you into an audiophile, nothing will.

One of my favorite moments regarding Brian’s composition skills is on the second track, You Still Believe in Me, where Wilson creates this absolutely wonderful false ending around the two-minute mark. Everything slows down, gets quiet, fewer instruments are playing as the diminuendo comes to an end. You really think the song is over. Everything is indicating this is it and then he starts it all over again with a new diminuendo but with a bicycle horn added into the mix. This repeats several times as it fades out to the real ending. I’ve never tried to make a list of my favorite false endings, but this song would be in the top 3.

Creepy Pasta Beatles = Gold Star
I want to talk about the Beatles, since they are very much a part of the story of Pet Sounds, since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the other album in that Top 2 I spoke of at the beginning of this review. Now, feel free to disagree with me here, but when I listen to the Beatles discography (mostly the early part), I often feel like I’m listening to a stalker or somebody with a very screwed up view on what is a healthy relationship. The Beatles’ Run for Your Life is a perfect example of creepy Beatles lyrics. I’m going to warn you that once that stalker mindset kicks in, a lot of their songs feel creepy, including even the very innocent sounding I Want to Hold your Hand. I often imagine the woman in this song being stalked by the singer and is completely unaware of his feelings. Songs like Run for Your Life are in stark contrast to the relationship exploration done by Brian Wilson in Pet Sounds.

Let’s compare it to Here Today by the Beach Boys, which was released within a year of Run for Your Life. Both of them are post-break up songs from the point of view of a man who just came out of a relationship.

The Beatles start their song off with:

Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or you won’t know where I am

That’s um…that’s seriously messed up. But let’s compare that with Here Today which focuses on the frailty of relationships:

Right now you think that she’s perfection
This time is really an exception

Well you know I hate to be a downer
But I’m the guy she left before you found her

Lennon is hyper focused on punishing the woman for leaving him while Wilson is even apologetic that he is being a little rain cloud in regards to the new relationship, but he feels the need to warn this guy about the potential heartache that might await him.  Similar situations. Two very different songs.

Connecting on a Fundamentally Universal Level Gold Star
First, I want to explain something about music that I despise so you can appreciate what Wilson has done on Pet Sounds. When musicians do this, I hate it to the point that I wish they would walk away from music forever. I call it “pandering by generalization” although there might be a better term for it. And it basically comes down to taking one of two approaches: write a song about some general feeling/event, but never give any specifics about what you are writing about (the “nuke it from orbit” approach). The second way (the “shotgun” approach) is to take the opposite extreme by including every possible freaking combination out there so that one of them is bound to match up with the listener. Everything is designed to appeal to as many people as possible to sell more music. The artistic value of the songs clearly takes a backseat to moving units. See if you notice it in other music you listen to after reading this review.

What’s the opposite of this? The writer having the intelligence to recognize a universally shared experience and being able to share it through a personal perspective. Wilson’s dealing of relationships and coming of age stories never feel like pandering. They feel like a man sharing his specific experiences with the rest of the world and you just happen to be able to relate to it. Going back to Wilson’s You Still Believe in Me, the song is talking about a very specific aspect of a relationship that many people can relate to, even if the song doesn’t fit perfectly with their own experience. And that aspect is being appreciative of the fact that your partner still has confidence in you, despite your numerous relationship failures. I know I’ve been there.

In Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulders), it’s not even an aspect of the relationship, but a single event of two people embraced in silence. We are getting a very specific moment, but it’s a relatable moment of physical contact trumping verbal communication. Outside of relationships, That’s Not Me covers that time in a young person’s life after going out on their own for the first time. They need to discover who they really are or aren’t. You never feel like he is describing anything, but his own life. However, you also connect with that universally shared moment that everyone goes through as they decide what it means to be an adult after leaving their parent’s house. I have so much respect for Brian Wilson as a songwriter.

Instrumentals Gold Star
Let’s Go Away for Awhile and Pet Sounds are two short instrumental tracks on the album. With the lack of lyrics and vocals, it’s up to the instruments to communicate all of the emotion to the listener. For classical music, this is expected. For a pop album, this is daring. This plays with your expectations and, if it fails to be anything short of amazing, you are going to notice it. You’re also going to wonder why they wasted your time with a sub-par track. Fortunately, neither song does this. Instead, both are beautiful arrangements. In Let’s Go Away for Awhile, the play between woodwind, percussion and strings leave me in awe of the sense of anticipation and optimism that is created. Nothing feels out of place and the acoustic fingerprint of each instrument is complimented perfectly, be it the striking drums, the deep bellow of the woodwinds or the waterfalls that flow out of the strings section. It’s wonderful how the different instruments take turns on who is leading the songs and all without creating a traditional melody. It is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Game of Words = Gold Star
One reoccurring theme I noticed in Wilson’s lyrics is his playful use of words. One example is the word: dream. There are two distinct meanings of dream. One relates to dreaming during sleep such as “You would not believe the dream I had last night. You had wooden teeth.” The other relates to hope for the future such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech.  In Wouldn’t It Be Nice, the singer spends the entire song discussing the hope of his future together with his significant other as a married coupled and all the great things that await them. This is their dream of the future, and the song ends with the lyrics of “Good night ba-baby, sleep tight, ba-baby” until the songs fades to nothingness, relating back to the dreaming you do when you sleep.

Wilson so articulately conveys the importance of dreams with the verse “You know the more it seems we talk about it, it only makes it worst to live without it, but let’s talk about it” It does not matter how much it hurts to want to fulfill our dreams because keeping our dreams alive is the only way we will fulfill them. This astute commentary goes in contrast with the song’s title, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, which implies a simple nicety, like a comfortable chair rather than this ache of young people wanting to grow up and spend the rest of their lives with each other. This only further illustrates Wilson’s playfulness with the English language.

Final Rating

Gold Star Gold Star Gold Star Gold Star Gold Star

Closing Thoughts

Before I leave you, I highly recommend the stereo version of the album because it helps separate the instruments. I listened to both the mono and stereo while listening to the album on repeat. Stereo felt vastly superior. And I would like to stress that you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t sit down and listen to this album with your full attention. There is so much more going on here in terms of sound, composition and lyrics. Pet Sounds was a high mark for the music industry, both in 1966 and for all-time, and it deserves your attention.

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Week 41 (Just A Band 1)

The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 5.0 out of 5 stars album. Were you expecting anything else? This album is usually placed in the top two of all-time greatest albums. Not top ten. Not top five. Top two. Let that sink in for a moment. But is it really deserving all of the praise it’s received over the past nearly 50 years? Let’s find out.

Artist BackgroundCan I really properly describe the best selling musicians in the history of the world with a couple paragraphs? Probably not. I’m just going to cover the basics of the early years for people who aren’t completely familiar with the Beatles so they have a starting point to learn more. The Beatles were formed in 1960 in Liverpool, England. The band consists of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The band was together from 1960 to 1970. They started playing in clubs in the UK and Germany, but ultimately caught the eye of their future manager, Brian Epstein. Brian was eventually able to get them a deal with Parlophone. Through Epstein, the Beatles started working with future producer and long time collaborator, George Martin. Martin is often called the fifth Beatle because of his heavy involvement with their albums. He’s also considered by many to be the greatest producer of all-time. From 1963 to 1970, they released 12 major albums in the UK. If you look at all the internal variations, that number skyrockets to 27 albums. Though Beatlemania started in the UK, it quickly came to the US where the arrival at JFK airport and their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show became a part of music history. One in three American households watched the Beatles that night. Beatlemania was definitely in full effect. Obviously, there’s a lot more to this incredibly intriguing story, but I need to stop somewhere.

Album Background: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band started out as a concept album as evident by the opening tracks and second to last track featuring the fictional band. It ended up covering many genres including, pop, rock, art rock, psychedelic, and even Indian classical music. It lasts about 40 minutes over 13 tracks. It was an instant commercial and critical success. It was influential in more ways than I can possibly count. It’s been described as a pinnacle moment for western culture. Plain and simple, this is the most important album I can possibly review. Honestly, I can’t think of an album that has spawned more conspiracy theories than this one, which included the death, and look-a-like replacement, of Paul McCartney. It’s worth researching the conspiracies and alleged drug references, if you have the time. It’s a very interesting read.

A big reason why this album is so different is because it was born out of the Beatles frustration with touring. This irritation was obviously showing as the polite and restrained Japanese audiences allowed them to hear, first hand, how terrible their lives shows had become. Normally, the screaming audience masked the poor quality of their performance. The Beatles were hitting a breaking point with their relentless international schedule. Once they quit touring, in addition to the reducing a significant source of stress in their lives, they gained an incredible amount of freedom without having to worry about recreating the music during a live show. They could experiment with music in ways they would have never considered before. Another reason for this album’s significance is due to all of the experimentation the Beatles and George Martin were willing to do in terms of audio engineering. They used techniques nobody ever did before when they recorded Sgt. Pepper. I’m barely scratching the surface here, but I need to move on to the rest of the review.

Favorite Track: I contemplated devising a method that would allow one of my cats to pick my favorite track. That seemed liked a better idea than forcing myself to actually pick one track over another in this timeless album as my favorite. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with a good, automated, feline-based favorite track chooser. If I ever do, I’m Kickstarting it and in three or four years after my initial delivery date, reviewers around the world will be able to enjoy having their cats pick their favorite track with little to no effort on their part. Crowdsourcing at it’s finest. Until then, I guess I have to pick it myself. My favorite track… on… Sgt. Pepper’s… Lonely Hearts… Club Band… is… Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite. I’ve listened to this album many times before I started listening to it for Project. Lt. Morning so I’m going with weirdness on this pick. It’s just a really interesting song. Let’s start with the inspiration for the song. It’s based on a circus poster from the mid-1800s. Being based on an actual poster, Mr. Kite is a real person. The lyrics of the songs are not a word-for-word transcription of the poster. Rather the words/names on the poster were included in the lyrics. A significant change is that the horse’s name was changed, but who is going to try to make Zanthus work in a song? Henry is a much better name and, of course, it spawned yet another drug controversy. The song was written by Lennon and McCartney, but Lennon was the one who owned the poster.

The audio engineering that went into this song is also interesting as Lennon really wanted a carnival atmosphere to be heard on the song. This lead to Martin trying many different approaches, but ultimately ended up with samples being cut into pieces, then being randomly reassembled after being tossed into the air for the famous carousel music parts found throughout the song. Besides the odd lyrics, I love the contrast created by Lennon’s very straight delivery of the lyrics and the numerous sets of rolling notes created by the randomly spliced tape. They complement each other so perfectly. Lennon’s voice also lends itself very well to the unique lyrics.

What Works: 

  • Yin/Yang One of the most wonderful aspects of this album is how well John Lennon and Paul McCartney complement each other. Though, the duo doesn’t just complement each other on the album level with individual tracks, but also on the song level with individual lyrics. Nowhere is this more evident than in the song, Getting Better. Paul’s bubbling over optimism is wonderfully balanced out with Lennon’s cynicism. As Paul sings out “I’ve got to admit, it’s getting better, a little better all the time”, Lennon counters this so beautifully with “It couldn’t go no worse.” I freaking love it. Another example of where their powers combined make for some of the best music on the planet is A Day in the Life. This song sounds like two songs smashed together because that’s exactly what it is. It is a Lennon song smashed together with a McCartney song, and the resulting piece is far superior then what either one of those songs would have been by themselves. Even after all these years, it still sounds amazing and fresh.
  • Sing-Along With a Little Help From My Friends is one of the greatest sing-along songs ever penned. Does it get any better than “Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends, Mmm, I get high with a little help from my friends, Oh, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends” for a sing-along chorus? I’m not so sure it does. And we all know Oasis’s Champagne Supernova (my generation’s de facto sing-along song) would not exist without the groundwork laid down by the Beatles. Hell, Oasis wouldn’t even exist without the Beatles, for that matter. Let alone that one song.
  • Weirdness The end of Good Morning Good Morning ends with a bunch of random animal sounds. Why? I have no idea. However, I do know it’s awesome.
  • Quality I listened to the 2009 stereo remastered version of this album for my review. Even if I had an original 1st edition UK pressing on 180 gram vinyl, I can’t really walk around with that in my pocket, now can I? Regardless, I freaking love the sound quality of this album. Every instrument and voice is so distinct. I could pretty much focus on any part of a song and easily tune out the rest of it if I wanted to. The mono version probably sounds better for a traditional hifi setup in your house, but I simply adored the stereo version on my headphones eight days a week.

What Doesn’t:

  • Domestic Violence The line “I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her, And kept her apart from the things that she loved” bothered me every time I heard it. I don’t care if it was written in a different time or whatever. That line is fucked. The actual reality of that situation is one of the most despicable things you can possibly do to another human being. It’s never going to be okay with me. Never. My mind just cannot put that at the same level as not liking your school. Feel free to disagree with me.

In Conclusion: As long as this review is, I’ve barely scratched the surface with the Beatles or Sgt. Pepper. There is so much more to write. This is such a good album on so many levels for so many reasons. If for some crazy reason, you haven’t listened to it yet, I urge you to listen to the delightfully weird album that changed everything for modern music. On top of that, you should really peruse their discography. It’s so much fun being able to recognize when the Beatles influences pop up in today’s music. And trust me, they are still popping up.

Music Video Links:
When I’m Sixty-Four (Sort of Official Music Video)
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (Sort of Official Music Video)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Sort of Official Music Video)

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
iTunes

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

Week 24 Review (End of Summer Blow Up 3)

As I cross over the midpoint of EoSBU, I’m reviewing an album from perhaps the greatest musician of my generation, James Dewees.  More specifically, his Kickstarter album, No Country for Old Musicians.         

Artist: Reggie and the Full Effect {James Dewees aka Floppy Disk-0 aka Fluxuation aka Klaus of Common Denominator}
Album: No Country for Old Musicians
Year: 2013
Genre: Too Many to Count
Rating: (Infinity + 1)/5

Worth Your Time? I consider it a “Listen to Before You Die” album.

Twitter Review: J. Dewees transforms the elegant chaos of entropy into music with NCFOM. An extended range of emotions and genres make for a unique experience.

Top 3 Tracks:

  1. Who Needs Another Drink?
  2. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Ralph’s
  3. 37

Things to Look For:

  • The Perfect Song. I know that’s a bold statement but I think I could listen to this song on repeat for an entire day and not get the least bit tired of it. I could possibly even go all week and do the first ever (and last) Project Lt. Morning review on a single track. I was madly in love with this song from the second it started with a man expressing his undying love for the 1992 Royal Rumble in Albany, New York where Nature Boy Ric Flair takes down…someone. Sadly, our wrestling fanatic is rudely interrupted before he could finish. But his enthusiasm isn’t the least bit dampened as the song which is more infectious than any STD known to mankind, Who Needs Another Drink?, begins. Floppy Disk-0 aka James is on the top of his game with this song. The lyrics are simple but insanely memorable. I loved singing the chorus in a nasally voice as loud as I could in my car during my daily commute. His other two interludes involving a discussion of smoking PCP and what I can only infer is Last Call at a Kindergarten classroom only add to appeal of the song. I know I am not alone in my love for this song as my friend informed me that the crowd went ballistic when this song started at the concert he attended. Like getting up on stage and dancing ballistic. Just imagining that makes me smile.
  • Ending on a High Note. One thing I noticed on the album that several of the songs have a short comedic bit at the end. In Guerrera, the song is about a brave Aztec warrior and his pet hawk who are traded by the Aztec empire to a group of aliens in exchange for the aliens not blowing up the empire. The aliens need his hero skills to fight other aliens. Pretty fair deal, no? Actually, this song has the fantastic line of “Stronger than one thousand spears that’s pretty strong if you ask me” which is extra hilarious because up to that point the song has a very serious tone. But as the drum beats start to wind down, the ending tops that when James shouts “Anybody see my bird?” which is then followed quickly by a  majestic hawk vocalization and a very short “Oh.” This brief moment of joy occurs again at the end of DMV where he is singing as Klaus, frontman of Finnish metal band Common Denominator.  Driving, Me, Victory at DMV also contains one of my favorite verse from the album “What are you looking at lady behind glass? My social security is I can kick your ass, For the last time so I can make it clear, A record of my birth is I’m standing right here.” The Department of Motor Vehicles has never sounded so metal.
  • Emotions. James is absolutely incredible at conveying a wide variety of emotions with pinpoint precision with his voice. The lighthearted silliness of 37 and We Make a Breakfast is such a stark contrast to his voice in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Ralph’s which is very melancholy. Take it even further on the sadness spectrum and you end up with Disregard where you can’t help but be reminded of your own feelings of despair as a relationship collapses right underneath your feet. I haven’t even touched on the songs where he is doing characters, which just further illustrates his versatility.
  • Best Break Ever. In Sundae, Booty Sundae, where James plays the part of electropop sensation Fluxuation, there is quite possibly the greatest keyboard break in a song ever recorded. It’s so freaking incredibly catchy. I think I bobbed my head every single time it came on. And I always did it in this figure 8 motion. Not sure why but it felt right. Dewees is the King of Keyboard, the Sultan of Synthesizers, the Colonel of Composition, the Emperor of Electronic Musical Devices, the… you get the point. The man can write a melody like no other.

Low Points: This isn’t a low point for me really because I consider it genius more than anything but I think at first listen the album is probably confusing to the newcomer. The album does contain a song in which James says the word “chicken” over and over and over…and over. But if you saw the video for the Kickstarter page that was used to fund this album, it makes complete sense. Even the title is kind of weird. But once you know that he composed the album while living in an apartment in N. Hollywood and felt like he couldn’t relate to the 20-somethings in his building as a 36 year old, it also makes perfect sense. The song, To the Fruit Wizards of Donnington, is about James getting hit by apples thrown by wizards. Well, it’s actually based on a real situation in which he playing at a music festival and a group of metal fans with some long beards started throwing stuff on the stage. Unfortunate but not so weird anymore, right? The song, Gimme Back My Leg, which might seem strange to write a song about your dog humping your leg is actually a touching tribute to his bulldog, talullah, who died while James was working on the album. Finally, anybody that doesn’t know that James includes a variety of alter egos in his albums is also going to be confused but I couldn’t imagine the albums without them. They do so much to make a Reggie album what it is.

Anything Else: James has been described as your artist’s favorite artist. And I have no doubt that this is true. The eclectic collection of compositions on this album just blow my mind as a music nerd and I probably left out at least a dozen other lyrics I’m dying to tell you about. But proof that other artists recognize his mad skills is Dewees was touring keyboardist for My Chemical Romance. So if you’ve ever seen them live, there’s a good chance you’ve heard Dewees and didn’t even know it. And a whole ton of musicians have served as part of his touring band. I imagine it’s because it’s so freaking fun to play James’ material and because he is such an awesome guy.

I’d like to close with probably the biggest mistake of my life. Out of all the Kickstarter projects I regret most , it is not the many that have failed after 12+ months of waiting but the one that I didn’t back that was an absolute success in every sense of the word. I’m sorry, James Dewees, for not backing this album. If you want to make another album though Kickstarter, I will gladly back it. Maybe even enough to get a sweet hoodie or something this time.

Additional Links: