Tag Archives: Pet Sounds

The First Album, The First Book & more

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Let’s suppose you’ve spent a few years in a rock band, The Runners. You haven’t starved, but you’ve just managed to get by in terms of life’s necessities. Finally, the band releases a first album, It’s the Runners! It may not be as big as Meet the Beatles!, but it’s brought you enough income to pay the rent for a year and buy a reliable car. Do you produce Son of It’s the Runners! or something completely different? (Either way the critics are standing by to slam your decision.) Most likely you’ll record something that’s as close as possible to the first album, and wait a while before electing to modify your style, your sound.

This is a roundabout way of explaining why I’m fond of debut novels. The first novel by an author, like a first album, is generally the result of years of preparation and effort. And it’s usually quite obvious in the pages of an initial effort. There’s an earnestness, a feel, a serious energy that’s often lacking in subsequent works. After all, the first book is a “go for broke” product. If it gets published and sells well, the writer has a new career.

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Yet, it seems like what follows for a successful debut novelist is parallel to what happens with the band recording a follow-up record. The author may think, “Why rock the boat if I’ve discovered a winning formula?” Thus, what results is a second novel that’s quite similar to the first, but without the same punch. (“Let’s Twist Again” to “The Twist.”) And it appears that publishers strongly encourage the successful debut novelist to turn out the second book pretty quickly; before the book one buzz wears off. This may be why second novels often start off well in pages 1 to 150 or 200, but conclude with what seems like a rushed and unsatisfying group of pages marked 151 to 350 or 400.

But let’s suppose, for a moment, that the second book is just successful enough. It may not approach the sales of book 1, but it may hit the 80 or 85% level. What happens then? Well, the author may decide to write the same type of book, the same style of story, over and over again for a reading audience willing to accept and purchase what can amount to a type of self-plagiarism. This is not terribly, horribly rare when it comes to authors who achieve mid-range or greater success. In fact, I remember a case not so long ago…

There’s a popular fiction writer whose books sell quite well. And reading one of her books is extremely enjoyable. But if you read any of the other novels she’s manufactured – a term I’m using deliberately – you realize that they are all basically the same story. Only the names have been changed to protect the original characters. So it was not quite shocking to receive an information sheet from her publicist a short while back about an upcoming release: “It’s completely different!” Whew, I thought, it’s about time.

And this is, of course, what happens next with both authors and bands. Eventually, they get tired and worn out with making money by repeating the same old thing. So then they record or write something that’s… “Completely different!” And it’s either viewed as a work of genius (think Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper’s) or as turning their back on their fans, their original audience.

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This is when the reviewer-critics attack or praise with their pens, but in my view this is secondary. What truly counts is the judgment of book and record fans/purchasers. They may decide that the more unique a work is, the better it is. Or they may hate something that reads or sounds too “different.” Either way, the “new thing” shouts out that the artist is willing to take a risk because this is what art, what life, is about.

I may be wrong, but I think that if the “new thing” came from the heart (rather than the head) of the artist – and was not simply contrived for commercial purposes, the audience will come to accept and/or love it. And in a very roundabout way, this article is an attempt to explain why I may love a writer’s first book, but not her second, third, or fourth. And it’s an attempt to explain why I might find that she’s regained her voice – her true, instinctive and once-again original form, with her fifth book.

But maybe it’s just me.

Joseph Arellano

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Love and Mercy

“Love & Mercy” – Mostly Good Vibrations: A Film Review.

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If you remember the 1960’s classic album Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, there is a good chance you will enjoy the movie “Love & Mercy.”

In a highly innovative flashback structure in which Paul Dano plays twenty-something Brian Wilson and John Cusack plays his fifty-something 1980’s version, we see the backstory of a creative musical genius whose abusive childhood and teen life results in destructive adult behavior. Based on a biography of Brian Wilson, “Love & Mercy” tells the horrific tale of a pioneering musician and the wounds which never seemed to heal.

But a tragic childhood can have moments of redemption and hope. This film has both, with the introduction of Melinda Ledbetter (played beautifully by Elizabeth Banks, earlier seen in the film “Invincible”).

Brian (Dano): “I would listen to those harmonies. I would teach them to my brothers and we’d all sing… How about you, Melinda? Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

Melindal Ledbetter (Banks): “He broke my heart.”

Brian: “He shouldn’t have done that.”

Melinda: “I shouldn’t have let him.

And that dialogue foreshadows one of the major motifs in “Love & Mercy”. Those closest to Brian let Eugene Landy, a tyrannical therapist use and abuse him, just as Brian’s father had. Paul Giamatti delivers a gripping performance as Landy reminding this viewer of JK Simmons in “Whiplash.”

And the music! It is absolutely essential to evoking and understanding the time period and the genius that is Brian Wilson. For those who do not know music theory well, “Love and Mercy” provides a hint as to why Wilson is considered to be one of the greats in music. He develops bold new orchestrations and arrangements, new sound textures in an analog era that, to those listening today, are taken for granted as marking the standard for the sixties and the seventies. His choral harmony, falsetto voice, and instrumentations were the most innovative of his time. Even the Beatles borrowed from him.

Beach Boys Concert poster

Understanding Wilson’s revolutionary compositions and inventiveness in his recordings (for example, by separating vocal tracks from instrumentals) is to appreciate when Brian’s mind was most stable, when he was most himself. His unbounded enthusiasm, however, was also indistinguishable, at times, from desperation.

“Love and Mercy” has some glaring flaws, especially if the viewer is aware of the details of Wilson’s life. In portraying the two lives of Wilson (pre-fame and post-fame), the movie sometimes loses momentum, with incomplete scenes suggesting a bigger story. This viewer was left with questions: Why didn’t Wilson’s family intervene when Landy was blatantly abusing him? What happened to the courageous maid Gloria who risked deportation? Who finally bought the legal challenge that ended Landy’s guardianship of Brian? Since Wilson’s father Murry is featured in several abusive encounters, one is left to wonder how he was treated by his mother Audree.

Brian with She & Him No Pier Pressure

Still, “Love and Mercy” deserves to become a classic not just for music lovers but for movie and biography aficionados. The single “Good Vibrations” was a signal to the world of Brian Wilson’s unique musical genius. “Love & Mercy” is a paean to the ongoing glory of Brian Wilson.

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

You can read more from writer-author, artist and instructor Diana Y. Paul by visiting her blog, Unhealed Wound, at:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

1965

1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson (Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99, 352 pages)

1965 could have been a direct, engaging and entertaining account of that year’s music. Instead, this nonfiction story begins with Acknowledgements, a Selected Time Line, an Introduction, and a Prologue before it actually starts. The ending is, naturally, followed by an Epilogue. And instead of simply discussing the music of the 12-month period, Andrew Grant Jackson proceeds to attempt to cover all of the political and social developments of the time, with far too much attention paid to psychedelic drugs. (Boring, “oft-covered” territory.)

One or two factual errors might be excusable, as Jackson was not alive when these events occurred. But there are far too many in 1965. Jackson writes that the Beatles tried to out-jingle-jangle the Byrds with the song “Nowhere Man.” No, it was George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone.” He lists the Beatles’ “Think For Yourself” as a song about politics and free expression. No, it was a break-up song. He writes that the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” was a remake of “Baby Love” by the Supremes. Not even close. And he cites “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys as a drug song. It was a remake of a West Indies traditional folk song earlier recorded by the rather benign, innocent Kingston Trio.

There are other statements that are questionable. Jackson writes, for example, that the Rolling Stones based their single “Paint It Black” on “My World Is Empty Without You” by the Supremes. Maybe, maybe not. One of the highly doubtful statements made by Jackson is that Brian Wilson based his classic song “God Only Knows” on the lightweight song “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” by the Spoonful. C’mon, now.

1965 is also plagued with no small amount of repetition. Jackson often makes the claim that specific rock song introductions were based on Bach’s classical music. In a couple of instances, he is likely right, but he goes on to state that this is the case for a large number of songs. Again, this is questionable.

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Every now and then Jackson does uncover something of interest. He may have discovered the song that Paul McCartney heard as a very young boy in the early 50s, which subconsciously inspired him to write “Yesterday.” Well, maybe.

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The book’s subtitle claims that 1965 was the most revolutionary year in rock music. Really? Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde and Aftermath were released in 1966, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band followed in 1967. I’d argue that these were the most significant, revolutionary years in rock music.

One final point is that Jackson often attempts to connect one type of music to everything else, musically and otherwise. You can love the music that Frank Sinatra recorded in the 60s without tying it to what the Beatles, Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones were doing at the time. There are different types of music, and some music is created without reference to the political struggles or happenings of the time.

1965 is a book that had a lot of potential. Due to its strangely formal structure and its errors, the potential was largely wasted.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on February 3, 2015.

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Everybody Knows It Was Me

Music Review: ‘Pop/Art’ by Adrian Bourgeois (Disc One)

Los Angeles-based musician Adrian Bourgeois has released a double-album containing 24 songs. Here we take a look at the first twelve songs on Pop/Art, to be followed shortly by another reviewer’s look at the remaining twelve songs.

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Pop/Art is nothing if not ambitious, and it makes for a sometimes sprawling introduction to Adrian Bourgeois, who now lives in the greater Los Angeles area but earlier lived and performed in Sacramento and Elk Grove.

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Pop/Art opens with “New December” which feels like a Paul McCartney song from the Beatles White Album melded with a track from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album. This is a nice opening and it segues into “Time Can’t Fly A Plane”, a song that has an America-style (“Ventura Highway”) rhythm and feel. One of my two favorite tracks follows, “Everybody Knows It Was Me”, which hits the ears like a song that was inadvertently left off of Todd Rundgren’s 1972 opus Something/Anything?

“Pictures of Incense” made me think of both the Traveling Wilburys and of A. C. (Allan Carl) Newman, whose Get Guilty album was pure genius. “Jonah” comes off as Bob Dylan mixed with the stinging electric guitar work most often heard on a Matthew Sweet album. “Have It Your Way” is a ’80s pop-rock confection. It’s a treat, especially as it’s not too hard to imagine a band called Bourgeois Tagg playing this song back in the day.

When I listen to “Hanging Day”, I think of McCartney’s “Rocky Raccoon”, Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and Sting’s “Heavy Cloud No Rain.” It’s a haunting, yet fun, track that grows on the listener. “Aquarium” is my other favorite track on Pop/Art; it’s beautifully sonorous and sounds as if it was produced by both Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. The lyrics are also life affirming: “If you can’t be touched, you can’t be healed.”

It’s not too hard to see the line between Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and Adrian’s “Too Much Time.” Think of a speeded-up rocking and rollicking variation on the classic “From a Buick 6.” As Sir Paul would say, “Oh, yes!”

I tend to like songs on which I can hear and observe a musician’s influences, which is why I have focused on these particular tracks. However, I suspect that some will most enjoy the songs that demonstrate Bourgeois’ originality – the sui generis “Waterfalls”, “Don’t Look Away”, and the regretful heartbreak song, “My Sweet Enemy.”

These songs were created while Adrian Bourgeois lived in Northern California. It will be interesting to see the changes in life’s attitude brought about by a change in physical latitude – the move to Southern California. (More sunshine and less rain?) No doubt this will be apparent on his next offering. Until then, this aspiring work should satisfy more than a few discriminating music lovers.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Pop/Art was purchased by the reviewer.

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Music Review: The Olms

Is the debut album from The Olms a hit, a miss or something in between?

The Olms (300)

If you missed the rock music era that ran from the mid-60s through to the end of the 70s, you can catch up to some extent by listening to this eclectic collection of 10 retro songs from the Los Angeles-based group The Olms. The Olms are Pete Yorn, who gives off something of an Owen Wilson-crossed-with-Ray-Davies vibe, and J. D. King, a combination of George Harrison and Michael Clarke (the late Byrds drummer) in appearance. It’s perhaps no accident that you’ll hear echoes of The Kinks and The Byrds in their music.

This debut album runs a couple of seconds less than a half-hour in length, and it was recorded on analog tape. Listening to the CD sounds like you’re hearing a cassette version. Whether that’s good or bad is up to the listener, but it adds a period touch to the release.

Here’s a quick look at the tracks.

“On the Line” is like The Traveling Wilburys (“End of the Line”) mixed with the Kinks. The megaphone vocal is by King, while Yorn contributes Davies-style background vocals. “Someone Else’s Girl” could have been a track from Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. There’s also a touch of The Beatles’ “Things We Said Today” in the song. The music sounds like a weekend drive through Los Angeles. Blissful.

“Twice As Nice,” the first-ever Yorn/King composition is an uplifting song that calls to mind The Beach Boys and America. “Walking down Record Street at night….” Clever. “Wanna Feel It” is the single, which has a nice rhythm but ultimately goes nowhere. All promise and no delivery, which is perhaps why it ends abruptly two-thirds of the way through and segues into “A Bottle of Wine, etc.” This sounds like a late-period Byrds song that might have been included on either Sweetheart of the Rodeo or Dr. Byrd & Mr. Hyde. It melds beautiful lyrics with unique and playful instrumentation. “It’s a lonely world without the one you want.” Sweetly melancholic.

“Another Daydream” is a Pet Sounds-style song with a beautiful melody and the strangest lyrics since “A Horse With No Name”: “Koolaid sheik wandering the desert/Stranded in time feeling alone/Cold sweat drying in the garden/Cactus flower saying hello.” What?

“Rise and Shine” is by far the weakest song on the album. And it’s meaningless. “I check the kitchen but there’s no one there/I start the engine yet go nowhere.” This might have served as a throwaway track on an album by The Monkees.

“What Can I Do?” is Yorn’s full-on Ray Davies act. “You know it’s useless baby we can’t say goodbye/We’re going to be together till one of us dies!” “She Said No” is King’s gruesome yet entertaining song. It’s his serio-comic version of Neil Young’s “Down By the River.” “Only One Way” might have been the last track on a Byrds album. The lyrics say, “We’ll see you next time.” Yorn channels Davies again while King’s guitar work combines George Harrison and Roger McGuinn.

The Olms

All in all, The Olms is a mixed effort. The album has some high highs, but they’re counterbalanced by some very low lows. Although Yorn is quite a good drummer, the energy level is off compared to their live performances (Google the olms kcrw). When they played these songs in a live session at Apogee Studio for the KCRW audience in Los Angeles, there was a spark, a sense of joyfulness (Yorn played the opening chords to The Kinks’ “Lola” and sang a fine cover of “Love Is All Around” by The Troggs), and a love of life and playing that’s absent in the flat-by-comparison album versions. The songs were also played at a faster pace when played live.

It’s a shame that the excellent KCRW concert was not taped and released as the debut effort by this group. Still, The Olms serves as a heartfelt tribute to days gone by.

Joseph Arellano

A review CD was provided by a publicist. (Photo: Justin Wise/KCRW)

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics website:

Music Review: The Olms – ‘The Olms’

The review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-The-Olms-The-Olms-4849307.php

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Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

Music Review: Volume 3 by She & Him.

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The 14 songs on this latest compilation by She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) go by in just 42 minutes and 36 seconds, which means the album would have fit perfectly on one side of a C-90 cassette. This is just one of the retro aspects of this release. Deschanel’s focus appears to be on the past, as if she’s piloting a musical time machine. Unfortunately, the machine may be broken as it seems to move all over the place without much rhyme or reason.

“I’ve Got Your Number, Son” is the awkwardly-titled track one and it starts off like a Beach Boys song melded with Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun.” Nice production but Zooey’s vocal is weak and muddled here, as if she had not yet downed a first cup of coffee. The drumming is overly busy and it comes off as a bit too Glee-fully cute for its own good.

“Never Wanted Your Love” is a bit disorienting as Zooey delivers a Nancy Sinatra vocal over an instrumental arrangement that screams out Wham. Wake me up before you go go. The song could have used more lyrics but the repetition is very ’60s/’70s/’80s. The good news is that Zooey delivers some energy here.

“Baby” is what a ’50s love song would sound like if recorded by Fleetwood Mac. The guitars are dead-on Lindsey Buckingham, and Ms. Nicks might think about covering this Deschanel composition.

“I Could Have Been Your Girl” is a good song. But Zooey seems to be straining (a rarity) in the wrong key. The lyrics, “I’d send you the pillow that I cried on…” suggest a song that might have fit on an album by Lesley Gore or Shelley Fabares. This track could have used additional takes before becoming a finished product.

“Turn to White” is Brazilian-style pop and Zooey finally sounds confident. This is her “I’m Still Standing” song: “You’re a distraction from everything I fear…”. Love has beaten her up and knocked her down but she’s not fading away. This is the best produced song on Volume 3 (presumably M. Ward’s on the bass); it could be a film soundtrack song, played during the closing credits.

“Somebody Sweet to Talk To” is also set to a catchy Fleetwood Mac rhythm, it’s kind of like “Everywhere.” The song is about love without obligations: “I’m just asking you to stay for a couple of hours…”. Zooey sounds like a different person here, which is nice, but the song is over in less than 3 minutes.

“Something’s Haunting You” is Zooey’s “Martha My Dear.” There’s a touch of Peggy Lee in the vocal (although some would argue that Lee was never this upbeat) and it would make for a great music video with Zooey dressed as a ’40s chanteuse.

“Together” is a lightweight ’80s pop track. It’s a throwaway song and the nadir of the collection.

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” is a cover that lacks the heart, feeling and soul of Mel Carter’s recording. This should have been a home run (like Gloria Estefan’s version), instead it comes off as a failed bunt. Zooey’s cover only lasts for 2:40 but, trust me, it feels much longer.

“Snow Queen” is ’50s style. I get that, but I don’t get it.

“Sunday Girl” is another cover, this time of Blondie’s Los Angeles surf-rock love song. Zooey’s vocal comes off as weak compared to Deborah Harry’s and it raises the question as to whether this ’78 song needed to be recorded again. (Probably not.)

“London” is simply Zooey singing over a piano. If the entire album were like this, it might have been near brilliant.

The title of track 13, “Shadow of Love,” looks like it might have come off an Eagles album and the song sounds like a mixture of Roy Orbison, The Eagles, and Jimmy Buffett. This is Zooey’s “Tequila Sunrise” and features the best lyrics on Volume 3: “We built a shadow of love in our hearts where the future should be… There’s no tomorrow to set us free.”

“Reprise (I Could Have Been Your Girl)” is a short vocal exercise by Zooey without lyrics which is interesting, if a bit illogical coming after “Shadow of Love.”

According to the record company, “(Volume 3) features some of the most dynamic, complex songs Deschanel has ever written.” Well, not really. There are so many varieties of style in this collection that one wonders what She & Him have become. Like Los Lobos, their display of musical diversity robs them of a clear, consistent identity. It may be eclecticism for its own sake.

Volume 3 may sell in bunches for She & Him but, overall, it comes off as a missed opportunity. Sometimes less is less, and this album is much less than it could have been.

Joseph Arellano

Note: I remain a big fan of She & Him, but I’d like to see Zooey and M. Ward push themselves to deliver a classic album; one about which people could say, “That was their Rumours, Rubber Soul or Pet Sounds.” I think they have it in them if they treat music as more than just a hobby.

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-she-him-volume-3/

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Into the Mystic

When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison by Greil Marcus (Public Affairs, 208 pages, $25.95)

“To this day it gives me pain to hear it.   Pain is the wrong word – I’m so moved by it.”   Lewis Merenstein, producer of Astral Weeks

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Greil Marcus has provided the world with a love letter – one addressed to Van Morrison.   Anyone who’s heard Van Morrison’s music is likely to admire this book.   It’s one of the few nonfiction books in which the Prologue and Introduction do not serve as unnecessary baggage, Marcus taking us back to the world of a very young Morrison with Them.

Rough God (the title taken from a line of poetry by Yeats) is a series of essays on the artist as a young and very mature man rather than a conventionally structured biography.   The entire point of the book, however, is to pay tribute to Morrison’s now 41-year-old masterpiece, Astral Weeks.   The producer of the record said that just 30 seconds into recording the album, “My whole being was vibrating.”   Marcus delves deeply into what Lester Bangs called the “mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work.”

If you’ve never quite understood the meaning of Astral Weeks, Marcus translates it and makes it clear.   This in itself is worth the price of admission, as if one were unlocking the core of Pet Sounds or Rubber Soul.  This work also examines some of Morrison’s lesser known recordings.   Like his song “Domino,” it’s joyful noise.

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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