Tag Archives: Beach Boys

Love & Mercy

As biopics go, Love & Mercy is more interesting than most. I liked how the two arcs and time periods of Brian Wilson’s life start off on their own but then slowly merge like converging highways. Having ’90s Brian in our heads as we watch ’60s Brian slowly devolve personally and psychologically, even as he peaks musically and famously, lends more dramatic irony to the film. Most Beach Boys fans probably already knew Wilson recovered and returned to music, but the film doesn’t let on until the credits (and fanboy postscript).

As for the Pet Sounds sessions, at times the process of inspiration to execution took on the feel of the movie version of Jersey Boys, where someone would say offhand “Big girls don’t cry…” and then we’d see the proverbial lightbulb over Valli’s head, and then cut to the band singing the fully formed “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” I suppose it’s just an efficient way to signify the creative process, but it’s also a bit disingenuous. Lightbulb moments do happen, but shotgun songwriting in my experience tends to be the exception and not the rule.

The movie luckily doesn’t overuse that trope; indeed, it dedicates good time to watching Wilson “compose” the album via the many studio musicians and strange new sounds. And the subsequent self-doubt and uneasiness about the album’s prospects for success will ring true to any musician or artist venturing into unorthodox grounds.

I’m grateful, above all, that it didn’t go full-bio. We learn just enough about Wilson’s upbringing to provide context for the story; and we see just enough of Older Brian to get a sense of his nadir. Put those two halves together and you’ve got a story that says more than if they were to actually include more.

More of that, please.

Sidenote: Paul Giamatti is a national treasure. He can be likably flawed (John Adams, Win Win), a colorful character actor (Saving Private Ryan, Parkland), and total sleezeball or straight-up villain, as he is in Love & Mercy and 12 Years A Slave. (Also, his middle names are Edward and Valentine, apparently. If he were around in the 1930s and ’40s he could have gone by Eddie Valentine and been a badass Edward G. Robinson doppelgänger. Come to think of it, he is today’s Edward G. Robinson.)

The Best Albums Of 2008

There was a lot of music released in 2008. I didn’t listen to most of it because I was too busy listening to the following albums to listen to much of anything else. I don’t expect to see any of these albums honored at the Grammys, but I still love them like my own hypothetical children. So here are the five albums that had me rapt in 2008.

copleand_yams-296x3001. You Are My Sunshine by Copeland

I didn’t think Copeland could top their 2006 release Eat, Sleep, Repeat-one of my all-time favorites-but sure enough, with a change of labels and general disposition, they drop You Are My Sunshine, their sunniest project yet. It’s rife with glorious choruses, delectable pop rock invention, though-provoking lyrics and angelic falsetto from lead singer/guitarist/pianist Aaron Marsh. Marsh has iterated that the band has no agenda for their music other than art. In this, they pass with flying colors. —– Standout track: “On the Safest Ledge”

61mljyjsk5l_sl500_aa240_2. Canopy Glow by Anathallo

This Chicago-based octet has been making music for awhile now, but Canopy Glow is their crowning achievement. It’s a Monet in musical form-full of nuance and lush color with a huge canvas of tools in use from the concert bass drum to hand bells. It’s also much more focused than previous works; no track runs longer than six minutes and, in spite of unconventional song structures and jarring time signatures, the album as a whole is far more accessible. The complex storytelling and musical technique leaves much to be discovered in Canopy Glow. —– Standout track: “All the First Pages”

51qrwqxpurl_sl500_aa240_3. Volume One by She & Him

Normally, I’d say stay the hell away from a CD made by an actress or non-musical celebrity (case in point: Paris Hilton). But for Volume One, Elf actress Zooey Deschanel teams up with alt-folk rocker M. Ward and actually creates something good. Something really good, actually. Deschanel’s voice, nasally but sexy, is the cornerstone of this folksy album-a mixture of sultry ballads, string-fueled anthems, and straight-up bubblegum pop. It’s pop music with gravitas and I’m loving every minute of it. —– Standout track: “Sentimental Heart”

611o6extubl_sl500_aa240_4. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends by Coldplay

I know I’m just another hitchhiker on the “Coldplay is good now!” bandwagon that revved up after the release of their latest album Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, but I can’t help it; it’s just a great album from what was once a tolerable band. I like it when bands who get stuck in a boring funk decide to spice things up and take some chances-Chris Martin and Co. have done just that and have a beautiful epic to show for it. The title track may have been overplayed on the radio, but it’s still the best track of the year, hands down. —– Standout track: “Viva la Vida”

512fqtv0d8l_sl500_aa240_5. That Lucky Old Sun by Brian Wilson

For a long time I appreciated the Beach Boys just as much as the other guy, but it wasn’t until I dug into Brian Wilson’s solo stuff when I realized his musical genius. There isn’t a better melody writer out there than Wilson, and his newest album That Lucky Old Sun gives a familiar yet welcome taste of classic surf rock in the form of a narrative ode to his native southern California. This album will fit snugly beside the immortal Beach Boys tracks of old, but it still deserves its own love. —– Standout track: “Live Let Live”

Honorable Mentions:

Harps and Angels by Randy Newman; Stop Heartbeat by The Foxglove Hunt; Be OK by Ingrid Michaelson

Soundtrack of the moment, part III

Haven’t done one of these in a while. Since the last one, I’ve tightened my music collection dramatically so as to eliminate the stuff I don’t listen to, as well as the stuff I had just for the sake of having. Here it goes…

“I’m Waiting for the Day” – The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Pet Sounds has grown on me. At first I thought it was overrated, but after repeated listenings, O can’t get enough of it. Now if I can only get the vinyl…

“Your Mother Should Know” – The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour
Such a catchy melody. Tight composition and easy to listen to over and over again.

“Prelude/Angry Young Man” – Billy Joel – Turnstiles
I’m so glad I’ve discovered more of Billy Joel’s catalogue. His late 70s music is among the best of all pop music.

“Jesus” – Brand New – The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me
From a former pop punk rock band comes this thoughtful, heavy-hitting tune in an album worthy of decade-best lists. A great spiritual song from a great rock band.

“The Greatest” – Cat Power – The Greatest
I’ve just gotten into female singer-songwriters and I’m lovin’ ever minute of it! Down to the bare bones, a la the Plastic Ono Band.

“Rubylove” – Cat Stevens – Teaser and the Firecat
Again with the singer-songwriters. This just goes to show that all you really need is a guitar or piano and a voice to make really good music. Check out any of Cat’s stuff.

“You Are My Joy” – David Crowder Band – A Collision or (3+4=7)
Listened to this album all the time at summer camp. It flows together well and provides the usual Crowder kick in the upbeat songs, as well as the deep thoughts in the slower ones.

“When Your Mind’s Made Up” – Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova – Once
Such a brilliant movie. Since it’s basically a musical, the songs make it what it is. This song is quite powerful and driving, but you need to see the movie and buy the soundtrack. I hope ‘Falling Slowly’ gets an Oscar nod, and hopefully a win.

“Bring on the Lucie (Freda Peeple) – John Lennon – Mind Games
Basically all of John’s solo stuff is great, but this song is especially catchy. I finally have the vinyl as well.

“Potato’s in the Paddy Wagon” – the Main Street Singers – A Mighty Wind soundtrack
I think I heard the soundtrack before I saw the movie, but both are awesome. I just love this song’s groove and altogether folksy spirit.

“Man We Was Lonely” – Paul McCartney – McCartney
This was the solo album that was released right after the Beatles broke up, and pre-Wings, so it’s good. All the songs are acoustic and stripped down, which is good.

“Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” – Peter, Paul & Mary – Album 1700
I didn’t know PPM did this song. I love this kind of stuff.

“Videotape” – Radiohead – In Rainbows
I’m no Radiohead snob, but it’s a great album overall. I paid a few bucks for it on their website because I wanted to be legit, and I also wanted to reward them for sticking it to the recording industry.

“Political Science” – Randy Newman – Sail Away
This song was written in the 1970s, but it is still all too relevant today. Plus, I love Randy Newman. His voice is quite off sometimes, but having just piano and voice for most of it is a plus for me.

“America” – Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends
Yet another ridiculous catchy S&G tune. I could listen to their albums all day.

“Island” – The Starting Line – Direction
I didn’t think they could top their previous album, but Direction is just flat-out good. It’s different enough from their past work to be progress, yet it sticks to what’s worked in the past, so it succeeds on every level.

“Sir Duke” – Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
We played this in pep band. It’s such a fun song. I haven’t delved too far into Stevie’s music, but I will eventually.

Soundtrack of the moment, part II

These are some songs I’m listening to. I think you should too.

“Lost in Space” – Aimee Mann – Lost In Space
Such a hauntingly beautiful song. Imagine driving through the desert at night with this whole album on repeat and you have an awesome musical experience.

“Seize the Day” – Alan Menken – Newsies soundtrack
Man, I love this movie. If you haven’t seen it and loved it, I will fight you.

“Hoodwink” – Anathallo – Floating World
What a mind-blowing album. These dudes mold music into forms never seen before.

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Their later stuff is way better than the surf rock stuff they started out with. Check out the entire album.

“Come Together” – The Beatles – Abbey Road
One of the coolest and most memorable openers I’ve ever heard.

“Jesusland” – Ben Folds – Songs for Silverman
What can I say? The dude knows how to make good music.

“Trolley Song” – Dave Brubeck – Greatest Hits
Sounds exactly as the title suggests. This guy is a piano player if I’ve ever heard one.

“Break on Through” – The Doors – The Doors
This song always reminds me of Forrest Gump.

“Tiny Dancer” – Elton John – Madman Across the Water
Of Almost Famous fame. A really catchy song from a gifted musician, however odd he may be.

“Belle” – Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams
This just puts you in a street cafe in Paris. It’s almost too good a song.

“Mother” – John Lennon – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
You can tell that it’s a cathartic song for John. I highly recommend all of his solo work, especially Imagine and Mind Games.

“Waiting on the World to Change” – John Mayer – Continuum
Am I a sell out if I like John Mayer and his ridiculously catchy tunes? Oh well, it’s a good song with an honest message.

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” – Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways
The man’s a straight-up badass. This is his last album and a damn good one at that. You can hear the pain in his voice and feel the ache in his fingers.

“Money” – Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
In an album that’s basically half instrumental, this song shines through as one of the best.

“When She Loved Me” – Sarah McLachlan – Toy Story 2 soundtrack
Man, this song just killed me. An incredible addition to a near-perfect film. If you aren’t in tears by the end, you have no soul.

“Deathbed” – Relient K – Five Score and Seven Years Ago
I’m in the minority that think that this album is not their best, in fact, a far weaker effort than mmHmm. But this epic masterpiece stands out amongst the other forgettable songs.

“Cecilia” – Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
One of the many infectious folk-rock tunes they created. Get all the albums.

“Zoo Station” – U2 – Achtung Baby
I’ve never been a gigantic U2 fan, but I really liked this album.

“Roundabout” – Yes – Fragile
A great mix of classical, 70s rock, and psychedelia.