SACCHARINE by Pinkshift

The tug of nostalgia is strong, and its pull seems to get magnified for me with each passing year. I guess this is what they call getting old. Anyway, someone online suggested that I check out Pinkshift, a modern emo-rock/pop-punk band from Baltimore. What convinced me to check them out was the comparison to early No Doubt, which is a somewhat unfortunate comparison that’s 100% because the band has a female lead singer. Pinkshift is more punk than No Doubt ever was.

The band recently released an EP of five songs, SACCHARINE, that perfectly captures the spirit of those early 2000’s era punk/emo bands that I used to hear on MySpace while hanging out in my dorm. The fact that kids these days are still interested in making this kind of music really warms my heart. Oh, and “i’m gonna tell my therapist on you” kicks major, major ass. The snark, the sneering attitude, and the swagger of that track are worth the price of admission. The dark and brooding “Rainwalk” feels like a My Chemical Romance track. Now that I think about it, MCR is a more apt comparison to make than No Doubt. But all of these comparisons are kinda lazy and don’t do Pinkshift justice.

Listening to “Mars” makes me wanna bring out the guyliner, and I never wore guyliner. I read an interview with the band online where lead singer Ashrita Kumar credits the pandemic with “i’m gonna tell my therapist on you,” blowing up online. I’m not sure if there’s a place in the current cultural zeitgeist for a 2000’s inspired emo band, but if there was ever going to be a moment for this type of music to get popular again, this does feel like the time. The musicianship, lyrics, overall vibe are all there.

Give this EP a spin and if you’re so inclined, go on Bandcamp and pick it up like I did and support these kids.

VAN WEEZER by Weezer

Well, here we are, five months into 2021, and we have two Weezer albums. The fifteenth (!) album from Weezer, VAN WEEZER, was supposed to be the fourteenth but was delayed by the pandemic. I heard about this album way back in the halcyon days of 2019 and thought, “gee, that sounds neat, Weezer with an ’80s hair metal filter.” Two years later, VAN WEEZER is here, and it’s the best Weezer album since 2016’s self-titled “White Album.” The four albums in between saw Weezer meander back into mediocrity chasing trends, embracing full-on pop, and releasing a semi-competent (but hugely forgettable) covers album. Like all good and true Weezer fans, I have given up on this band more times than I can count. And yet, every time they put a record out, I show up with my Buddy Holly glasses on, ready to party. Early this year, the band put out OK HUMAN, an electric guitar-free album of baroque pop songs that oscillated between thoughtfully introspective and patently navel-gazing. Everyone and their mother told me OK HUMAN was a good record, but I couldn’t be bothered to attempt a second listen.

Let me cut to the chase: VAN WEEZER was teased as a big guitars throwback record. The single “The End of the Game” left it a bit ambiguous if that’s what we would be getting. See, that track opened with squealing, Eddie Van Halen guitar noodling but quickly devolved into a classic Weezer track. Subsequent singles followed the same pattern. VAN WEEZER is chock full of throwbacks (more on that later), but mainly, it’s an album that has more in common with the ban’s Green Album than, say, VAN HALEN II. This return to the sound of the band’s classic run (1994-2002) is undoubtedly welcomed after four disappointing albums, though I must admit I wish there were more guitar heroism. I wish there were more Van Halen on VAN WEEZER. There’s more early British metal on VAN WEEZER than Eddie Van Halen, which I must stress is only an issue of branding. The album is good, nearly great even, but I wish they’d have called it something else.

The album opens with “Hero,” which is a classic Weezer loner/outcast track. Hearing Rivers sing about how he’s not a superhero and that he’s an outcast is pretty goofy at this point. This song’s ultimately fun but a bit embarrassing with its grown-man singing about Spiderman quality. “All the Good Ones” brings us the return of Rivers doing his awkward white dude half-singing/half-rapping thing that he does. The core idea of the song, “all the good ones are gone, where did you come from?” is cute, and the hook is catchy enough for me to overlook that this song is a re-write/ripoff of their 2005 single “Beverly Hills.”

“End of the Game” is the album’s thesis statement with its Eddie Van Halen intro and opening lyrics that directly reference the classic Green Album track “Island in the Sun.” The song ostensibly is about the end of a relationship but could be read as a metaphor for the band’s relationship with their hardcore fans. Hearing Rivers coo, “Am I your go-to or am I uncool? With all of these extremes that I go to, All I want is to be wanted by you” made me feel a tinge of guilt for only giving the last few Weezer albums a single spin. “End of the Game” definitely feels like a summer song, the kind you listen to with the windows down as you cruise around your neighborhood. And I bet it’s going to kill when the band plays it live.

VAN WEEZER then proceeds to get weird in the middle. The first time I listened to the album, my ears perked up when I heard the classic, unmistakable sounds of Black Sabbath’s “Crazy Train” melt into Weezer’s song “Blue Dream.” Repeated listens revealed other songs were naggingly familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place in what way. Unnerved by the blatant rip-off of “Crazy Train,” I went online to look at the album credits. Sure enough, the band gives co-writing credit to “Blue Dream” to Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads. And sure enough, I saw that other tracks gave co-writing credits to other bands–Blue Oyster Cult and Asia are both credited on “I Need Some of That” while Billy Joel (of all people) is credited on “Beginning of the End.” I find this very strange; Weezer doesn’t cover or sample these artists; they just…generously borrow from “Crazy Train” and “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” Some of these are distractingly obvious (“Crazy Train”) but others are so obscured I can’t believe they had to be credited (Joel’s “For The Longest Time”).

You’ll note that none of the bands Weezer borrows from is Van Halen. Van Halen and the intense hair metal all but vanishes from VAN WEEZER. Which is a bummer. I enjoy “Beginning of the End,” which is probably the album’s most deadly earworm (I sang it around the house all week). It’s a fun track about the end of the world (seriously). “I Need Some of That” opens exactly like Asia’s “Heat of the Moment,” which is kinda funny because it’s all about youth and never wanting to grow up. “Blue Dream” is a half-baked attempt at Weezer-infused metal with surreal Octopus infused lyrics. The only reason the song works is because the guitar hook is so damn good–thanks, Sabbath.

I really like “1 More Hit,” a brooding song about drugs and addiction that also reads as Rivers confessing just how desperate he/the band is for another “hit,” i.e., musical success. That said, the song has the incredibly awkward lyric “pump it up, into me, please daddy, please daddy.” The first time I heard it, I had to stop the song and start it over as I thought for sure I’d misheard the lyric…but no, this is what he sings. It’s hilariously unfortunate.

“Shelia Can Do It” is an almost Fountains of Wayne-Esque pop song that doesn’t fit with the VAN WEEZER-esthetic at all but is so sweet, fun, and infectious. It reminded me of the track Rivers wrote for The Monkees album GOOD TIMES! a few years ago. The album closes with the acoustic strummer, “Precious Metal Girl.” The song is an overly cutesy ballad that’s probably not as clever as it thinks it is, but like many good Weezer songs, it wins you over by the end.

VAN WEEZER is an enjoyable listen, but I think the album was hurt and helped by the delay in its release. On the one hand, it was smart to delay its release until the pandemic abated enough to (please God) let them tour. These songs are going to sound great live and will fit nicely between the band’s classic material. That said, the delay also hurt VAN WEEZER because it was hyped as this epic hair metal album that it simply is not. I would have liked less borrowing from classic rock, and more turned up to 11 guitar heroics. As I stated earlier, the album’s title probably shouldn’t have invoked the mighty Van Halen. Still, the album proves that one can never truly count the band out three decades into their career. Check out VAN WEEZER for the strange middle section, but keep listening for the hooky pop songs that bookend the gimmicky stuff.


I reached into my crates and pulled one of my uncle’s records out at random to revisit. Oddly enough, I pulled out Supertramp’s album EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS, which was recorded in Nederland, Colorado, a town that’s not far from my home. I really like the album artwork, a photograph of a snow-covered piano. According to my vigorous online research, the photo was taken at a ski lodge in Boulder County, again not far from my home. Even stranger, the album was released 44 years ago this month! I guess it’s kismet.

After admiring that album cover, I flipped the sleeve over and checked out the tracklisting. My heart kind of sank. The only track I recognized was the first one, “Give A Little Bit.” I guess I should talk a little bit about my relationship with Supertramp: I don’t really have one. Sure, I love all the singles I grew up hearing on classic rock radio, but I’ve never sat down and given one of the band’s albums a listen. My favorite Supertramp song is probably “Bloody Well Right” off of CRIME OF THE CENTURY. Looking into the band’s discography, it seems that 1979’s BREAKFAST IN AMERICA (the album they released right after EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS) is the band’s big album. I’ve heard over half of that album’s tracks on the radio over the years.

But I’m not here to talk about BREAKFAST IN AMERICA. I’m here to discuss EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS. The album opens as I said, with “Give A Little Bit.” Even though I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, I was surprised at how great those crisp opening guitar chords sound. This is a great way to open a record, though this song feels a decade older than it is. Rather than being a song from the year Star Wars came out, this feels like a 1960’s summer of love song. The core message of the song is very hippy-dippy and runs counter to the slightly snarkier tone of the majority of Supertramp’s songs I’ve heard over the years.

The second track, “Lover Boy,” is a piano ballad with some nice guitar tossed in for good measure. The whole track is drizzled with some syrupy strings that belie the song’s subject: the titular “lover boy.” Apparently this lover boy has read a book on seduction and uses deception to entrap women. I love the jaunty piano riff; it really grows on you and is a nice contrast to the song’s dark themes. A little over halfway through the runtime, the song has a fake out ending and when the song resumes, it’s much darker and more guitar-driven. Usually, I don’t care for tricks like that, but I thought it worked well here.

The third track, “Even in the Quietest Moments,” opens with chirping birds and a clarinet, which is strange but not unwelcome. Soon, however, the track devolves into a mystical-acoustic ballad that sounds like a parody of something off of LED ZEPPELIN III. The lyrics are addressed to God seem to be about the distance between God and man. It’s competent, but I still found myself feeling a little embarrassed to be listening to it. “Downstream” is another piano ballad, and here I should point out that EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS does not feature Supertramp’s trademark Wurlitzer electronic piano. The zany, high energy the Wurlitzer brings to many classic Supertramp singles (“Goodbye Stranger”) is entirely missing from this record. “Downstream” is a simple love song about…taking a boat ride on a Sunday? This straightforward song frankly feels like filler.

The next track,”Babaji”, reminds me very much of George Harrison’s solo track “My Sweet Lord.” The obvious reason is the references to Indian/Hindu spiritualism but also because both songs are about “being strangers” to God and yearning to be with a higher power. Apparently, yes, I had to look this up, “Babaji” is about Mahavatar Babaji, a religious figure Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson greatly admired. There’s probably a lot going on in this song that my ignorance on the subject matter obscures, but for the most part, I think this is a solid enough track. This was released as a b-side, and it feels like one.

EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS finishes up with two really strange tracks. The bizarre piano ballad “From Now On” and the lengthy prog track “Fool’s Overture.” The former has the strangest/laughable lyrics on the album:

“Sometimes I slowly drift away

From all the dull routine

That’s with me every day

A fantasy will come to me

Diamonds are what I really need

Think I’ll rob a store, escape the law

And live in Italy”

I like the lyrical hook and the saxophone paired with it, but this track is goofy. There’s a vocal choir that comes in near the end, too, that is like crazy icing on a batshit cat. “From Now On” is so ballsy that by the end, it convinces me that it’s not insane but actually rather awesome. Well played, Supertramp. “Fool’s Overture” clocks in at 10 minutes and 53 seconds–which, can I say: what the heck, Supertramp? Why not find an extra seven seconds and push this thing to eleven minutes? “Fool’s Overture” is a mishmash of songs/song ideas that also features sound clips of Winston Churchill. According to Wikipedia, it took five years to write, which checks out as this thing is sprawling and probably blows you away when you’re high…but honestly, it felt a bit too generic for me. Yes, a song featuring weird woodwinds, Winston Churchill, and William Blake is generic. Whenever I hear stuff like this, I think about how intricate and challenging it was to create and how eager I am for it to be over. Prog is not my favorite genre by any stretch, so maybe I’m biased, but compared to some of the prog I’ve liked over the years (Gabriel era-Genesis), this doesn’t stack up as anything other than a couple of long songs stitched together.

Overall, EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS reveals a more subdued version of Supertramp I was unfamiliar with. Clearly, the band’s non-singles output is worth checking out, though I get the impression from this album that it’s a bit spottier than I might have thought. Still, half of the songs work for me, and other than “Fool’s Overture,” even the misses on the record were interesting.


Lately, I’ve been making a conscious effort to listen to songs and albums outside of my go-to genres (rock, indie rock, classic rock, rock-rock). To that end, I devoured Jessie Ware’s 2020 electro-pop album WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? upon seeing it crop up on not one but two best of the year lists from critics I follow. A few people online described WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? as a “disco” record, which usually would have given me pause; however, I’ve recently discovered that much of the negative attitude towards disco music comes from the fact that disco’s stars were gay and black. I’m not saying everyone who burned disco records in the last 1970s was a homophobic racist, but that certainly factored into some folks thinking. Even if they weren’t 100% aware that this was a reason they “hate” disco. Anyway, that’s probably a post for another time–the bottom line is I felt that despite having grown up in a rock rules/disco drools household, I shouldn’t avoid an album because it’s “disco.”

And frankly, WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? is not a disco album. It’s electronic pop, and yeah, some of the grooves could be used to shake your booty, but I would not call this a “disco” record for the most part. It is very much a throwback album that mixes the disco music of the 1970s with 1980’s electronic/New Wave. I’d never heard of Jessie Ware, so I assumed she was a throwback artist who has been churning out this kind of retro dance music for a while, but upon looking into it, I found that Jessie Ware’s career has been spent crafting perfectly fine, adult-oriented, pop music. I browsed her top tracks on Spotify and none of them not from WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? dip into this chirpy, synthed out sound.

I was around in the ’80s, but I was a kid and spent most of that time listening to the music from the ’60s and ’70s my parents grew up listening to, so my frame of reference here is a bit off. What I’m trying to say is that I only have a vague notion of the artists Jessie is referencing in these songs. “Ooh La La” sounds like a Tom Tom Club song, but that’s probably because I only recently discovered the Tom Tom Club. I recently chatted with my friend Lisa Peers about this record, and she pointed out that the album’s final track, “Remember Where You Are,” bears more than a passing resemblance to a track by The 5th Dimension, “Up, Up and Away.” This was not a song (or band) that I’d encountered before, but upon listening to “Up, Up and Away” I totally hear it. All of this is to say that WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? fascinates me but might bore someone who’s been there and done that when it comes to these genres.

Thematically, WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? is all about being in love and wanting to be with the one (boy) you love. The album opens with “Spotlight” which is about the yearning of being with a lover and not wanting a night to end. “Save a Kiss” and “Adore You” similarly address a lover and are about the desire to be with another person. This primal hunger for love emanates over the record; however, the record careens into darkness as the song’s cuteness gives away to a bit of manic obsession. “Adore You” features a creepy, pulsing beat and the hauntingly repetitive lyrics “I adore you.” Ware’s voice is dipped in a robotic vocal effect that freaked me the fuck out. Sure, we all want to be adored, I guess, but it starts to feel a bit, too much. On “What’s Your Pleasure?” Jessie’s voice alternates between angelically cooing and sexily breathy. This is a woman I want to spend time with. But on “Adore You” she’s essentially chanting “I adore you” and “don’t go.” This is a woman I would be afraid of and would worry that she would kill my daughter’s pet rabbit.

However, this tonal shifting works in the album’s favor because it allows Jessie to really show off her voice. She’s able to take somewhat creepy lyrics and make them sound pleasant (and vice versa). The hooks, for the most part, are fantastic–these are catchy songs. The only exception being “Adore You” which is just her droning “I adore you.” Besides the simplistic nature of that track, my only real complaint about the album is that I think it should have ended with “The Kill.” This track feels like the culmination of the album, wherein the darkness that’s been lurking in the background finally comes to the foreground with Jessie singing, “Don’t kill me with your love.” Instead of letting this dark end cap off the album, WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? ends with the previously mentioned “Remember Where You Are” which sonically veers away from the predominately dark 80’s synths towards the shinny 70’s pop. I considered suggesting this track open the album, which would have sort of worked, but honestly, the track stands out like a sore thumb because it doesn’t stick to the album’s themes of love, yearning, and obsession.

This is an excellent record and gets better each time I sit down and listen to it. I know I love an album when my favorite track keeps shifting, which totally happened with WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? Jessie Ware was not on my radar, but I’m going to follow her career. I’m particularly interested in seeing where she goes from here. I think it would be interesting if she continued to explore more retro sounds, but I’m not sure how long this could be done without getting stale. Give WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? a spin and let me know what you think.

ANAK KO by Jay Som

Feeling the crushing weight of impending fatherhood, I sought refuge in the calming musical shores of dream-pop/shoegaze back in 2015. The genre quickly became something of a security blanket for me, which is probably why I dusted off my shoegaze playlist again in mid-2020. Seeking to add new tracks to my shoegaze playlist, I stumbled upon Jay Som’s “Superbike,” which led me to her 2019 album ANAK KO, a record that has become one of my top pandemic albums.

Jay Som is the stage name for California singer-songwriter Melina Mae Duterte who came to the world’s attention in 2016 with her bedroom record, TURN INTO. That self-recorded album launched her career as both an artist and producer. ANAK KO was also recorded and mixed by Duterte but unlike her previous album also features her touring musicians on guitar and drums. I mention this because I’m going to gush about how good this sounds for a so-called bedroom album. And while the record was put together outside of a traditional recording environment, I want to acknowledge that ANKAK KO isn’t just Duterte sitting alone in her room. Although, from what I can tell, much of this might have been recorded in her bedroom. Why does any of this matter? Because ANAK KO is a lush, at times achingly beautiful album; it’s not a D.I.Y. record. This is not a static-laced lo-fi record. ANAK KO is so polished that even if the songwriting weren’t as good, I’d still be impressed.

But the songwriting is really good. The album is ostensibly classic dream-pop, with Duterte’s soft, almost whispered vocals riding a crest of shimmering sonic soundscapes. Lyrically, ANAK KO is like standing over someone’s shoulder and reading their diary; the songs (even the sunnier-sounds ones) are full of the neurotic yearnings and anxiety of a young person. Like most good art, there’s a failed relationship casting a terrible shadow over ANAK KO. This shadow is the glaze on the album’s doughnut, taking good songs and making them fantastic. The creeping drone found part of the way through “Peace Out” is the best, and my favorite, example. Even on tracks that ostensibly sound happy/upbeat, there’s a beating heart of darkness.

Yes, there are lots of ’80s tinged keyboards indicative of dream-pop, but Duterte has all kinds of tricks up her sleeve. She packs the album with all kinds of neat little production embellishments that allow ANAK KO to escape easy classification. There’s a dollop of country guitar on the album closer “Get Well.” The song “Peace Out” sounds like an early Best Coast track. There’s a violin part on “Nighttime Drive” that oddly reminded me of “Blimps Go 90” by Guided by Voices. The quick staccato of guitar chords and hypnotic melody on “Superbike” reeled me in, but it was all these little details sprinkled throughout ANAK KO’s production that kept me coming back.

I’ve seen this album described as a headphones record in reviews, but for me, that’s a bit limiting and undersells the production. Like I stated earlier, ANAK KO is a lush record. It’s painfully personal and brimming with nostalgic flourishes whose sincerity helps it avoid being just another gimmicky throwback. I really cannot overstate how good this album is and eagerly I await Duterte’s next project.

HYPNOTIC EYE by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

I forget that Tom Petty is dead. Growing up, Petty’s music was all over FM radio, and his videos were in regular rotation on MTV. His music reminds me of late-night car rides down winding backroads and frigid early morning commutes in my dad’s Chevy. I saw Petty live in concert in 1995 and then pretty much quit following his career. The last Petty album I’d bought and listened to was 1999’s ECHO. I remember thinking it was decent for a legacy act. Yes, in 1999, I had written Tom Petty off. And the rest of the world seemed to as well. I didn’t see Petty on TV, and the radio only played the same seven or so hits.

When HYPNOTIC EYE came out, I noticed that it was mainly getting positive reviews, but I was wrapped up in a cross-country move and finding a new job. Then, in January of this year, I scheduled a video chat with my friend and fellow music blogger, Lisa Peers.* Rather than sort of stutter our way through yet another awkward Zoom call, I proposed that we pick an album to discuss. Knowing that Lisa is a huge Tom Petty fan, I let her choose one of his late-period albums. Happily, she chose 2014’s HYPNOTIC EYE.

All I knew before listening to HYPNOTIC EYE was that it was the final Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker album and that critics at the time had hailed it as a “return to form.” My first listen was underwhelming. The songs all seem to fall into the same mid-tempo, and the song hooks weren’t hitting. Had I not needed to digest this record to discuss it with a super-friend properly, I likely would have just written it off. And that would have been a shame because HYPNOTIC EYE is an excellent record.

The chugging “American Dream Plan B” opens the album. It’s a harder, more raw song than I was expecting. There’s a weird vocal effect on Petty’s voice for some of the song, and initially, I was worried this was going to be crutch found all over the album, but this fear proved unfounded. Petty sounds fantastic on HYPNOTIC EYE. Though there isn’t a theme, per se, HYPNOTIC EYE does seem like a meditation on getting older. On “American Dream Plan B” Petty voices his bemusement at his staggering success, while on “Fault Lines” and “Sins of My Youth,” he addresses his failings. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff for a rockers’ late-period album, but Petty puts a nice spin on all these cliches. I like the comparison of a fault line and a personal flaw/fault. The bluesy ditty “Full Grown Boy” features lyrics about both being a “full-grown boy” but a full-grown “changing every day.” And I think that might be the key to understanding why HYPNOTIC EYE turned out to be such a good record–Petty never quit evolving both as an artist and as a man.

I love “Red River,” a witchy-woman track that would fit nicely on FULL MOON FEVER. Likewise, the album closer, “Shadow People,” feels like a song I’ve grown up hearing my whole life. Even in 2014, Petty was still minting classics. I’m also delighted that the final Heartbreakers album has a pot reference (“U Get Me High”). It would have been a shame if Petty’s last dance with the Heartbreakers hadn’t also included Mary Jane. Really, there’s only one dud on the whole album, “Burnt Out Town.” This, the second to last track is basically a parody of blues music with painfully obvious rhyming lyrics. When I chatted with Lisa, I had her guess which track I liked the least; she could easily guess this one. It’s a bad track. Luckily, the album doesn’t close with it, so Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers get to ride off into the sunset on a winner.

Listening to HYPNOTIC EYE in 2021 made miss Tom Petty. After the first few listens, when the songs started to click with me, I couldn’t help but think, “Man, this is great, I can’t wait to hear the next album…” Guys like Tom Petty are so good for so long we take them for granted. I hate that I slept on this record for so long, don’t make the same mistake.

*Lisa is also a novelist

BELONG TO THE WIND by Various Artists

I graduated from High School and classic rock radio around the same time. I got a job in a bookstore, and on my lunch breaks, I would pour over the shorter more obscure album reviews in the back of Mojo and Spin. Thus my journey into indie rock began and for a time, I left the mainstream behind. It blew my mind that so many outstanding artists could be so under-appreciated. As I got older and I watched the majority of these indie bands fade into obscurity, I realized that this was not a new phenomenon. The stuff on the radio is…well, the stuff on the radio. But the more interesting stuff was probably languishing in obscurity.

So I’m really into lost bands and dusty 45s from artists who never made it big, despite having a lot to say. With the resurgence in vinyl records, a curious (and frankly awesome) subculture of music nerds has started boutique labels with the sole mission of panning for this rare musical gold and reissuing it. One such label, Forager Records out of sunny California, has just released its debut album BELONG TO THE WIND. According to their website, the label scrounged many dusty 45s to unearth this “mellow drift through psychedelic folk & soul gathered from American 45s of the 1970s.”

Needless to say, with a description like that I pulled out my credit card and ordered a copy of the record. This compilation did not disappoint. An eclectic mix of tracks that all share a common thread of loneliness and introspection BELONG TO THE WIND beautifully illustrates my theory that much of the best music did not make the Billboard Top 100 and is languishing in obscurity. The collection opens with the shimmering “Spend Another Day” by Autumn Dust. This track perfectly sets the mood for the rest of the record. There’s a painful longing in the singer’s voice. Who is he? I have no idea. A Google search for Autumn Dust reveals nothing. And so it goes for all the other artists featured. The mystery behind who these people are only serves to heighten the aura of mystery surrounding the track.

Despite the label touting “psychedelic folk & soul,” none of the tracks falls neatly into any one genre. And none of them fall into the trap of boring ’70s singer-songwriter cliche. The second track, “Oh Man” by Cisco, features an oddly haunting saxophone. Most of these tracks are downers, just a glance at the titles will tell you that: “I’ll Never Be the Same” and “Time for Us to Part” being the most obvious. But even songs with even less somber titles still go hard on the sorrow. A good example is the track “I Want to Change My Life,” whose soulful lyrics seem to be a helpless cry for change that might not be possible.

The record’s standout track is the devastating “Anticipation of the Sun” by Jeff Laign. The song, ostensibly about the death of a best friend, is sung with aching sincerity and with a voice that always seems on the verge of breaking. The spooky, almost lo-fi production left me feeling haunted every time I pushed play. Who the hell was/is Jeff Laign and why didn’t he become a household name? “Anticipation of the Sun” is worth 50 Cat Stevens songs; why didn’t he become more famous?

If I have any gripes with BELONG TO THE WIND, besides its brevity (the ten tracks clock in at just 40 minutes), it’s that only one song has a female singer. And what a song it is, too–“The Lady Has No Heart” by a band called St. Elmo’s Fire feels like a forgotten Fleetwood Mac b-side. I could have used just a little bit more of that, but otherwise, this is a perfect collection of lost classics ideal for lonely Sunday afternoons. Hopefully, Forager Records will make enough money off BELONG TO THE WIND to release more forgotten music.

If you’re interested in buying a copy of the record or just want to listen to these songs, visit the Forager Records website.


REVOLVER, The Beatles’ seventh studio album, just celebrated an impressive 50th anniversary earlier this month. Last night I sat down with my son and listened to it in its entirety for the first time in many years. Growing up, REVOLVER was my very first Beatles album. It was one of two CDs my parents owned for many years which means this is The Beatles album I am most familiar with. Because it was the first time my son Warren had heard an entire Beatles album, I decided to try my best to listen with new ears, not an easy task for an old Beatle-fan like myself.

For starters, I was surprised at how clean and modern REVOLVER sounds. Sure, this type of rock music isn’t what’s in vogue today, the album could still have easily been released today. I know that this isn’t a new revelation, and is, in fact, the chief aspect that makes The Beatles and their work still so relevant. But I was still nonetheless impressed with how well REVOLVER holds up. I also noted, maybe for the first time, what a fantastic bridge album REVOLVER is between the early “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” Beatles and the drugged-out later period. The band is still trading on their moptop image/sound but there is a clear effort to craft songs that are both sonically diverse and that cover meaningful topics outside of merely wanting to hold a girl’s hand and/or being in love. There are, history tells us, several factors that contributed heavily to this evolution in the band’s sound. The first is, of course, the band’s exposure to Bob Dylan, which began a sea change in the band’s writing on RUBBER SOUL released the year before. Lennon, in particular, was increasingly trying to say more with his music thanks to Dylan’s influence. Drugs, specifically LSD, and the psychedelic counter-culture movement also played a tremendous influence on the band and REVOLVER. Lastly, I’d also say that George Harrison meeting Ravi Shankar, how expanded upon and improved Harrison’s sitar playing during the summer of 1966 also heavily influenced REVOLVER.

REVOLVER might also best be described as Harrison’s coming out party. Though his best Beatles-era songs are arguably on ABBEY ROAD, I would argue that it is REVOLVER where it becomes apparent that Harrison is just as good a songwriter as Lennon-McCartney. It’s worth noting that this is the first (and only) time that a Harrison-penned song opens a Beatles album. And what an interesting choice “Taxman” is when you consider the song’s subject matter. This is the first time The Beatles get political and it’s not about war but rather their pocketbooks! I’m not sure I would be aware of the tax situation in the UK during this period of history were in not for this song and The Rolling Stones eventual decision to be tax exiles during the recording of EXILE ON MAIN ST. Interestingly enough, unlike many protest/political songs of the era, “Taxman” is probably the closest song to remain topical even to listeners today.

Though largely considered to be the pop Beatle, the one with the keenest commercial sensibilities, even Paul McCartney gets serious on REVOLVER. True, McCartney (like Lennon) had been maturing in his songwriting with each successive album, REVOLVER features one of his darkest songs ever, “Eleanor Rigby.” Though the song was written in conjunction with Lennon, who often gets credit for being the more artistically-serious Beatle, McCartney came up with the impetus for the song. Listening to “Eleanor Rigby” with fresh ears, I was struck at how hopeless the song’s characters are. That McCartney, a wealthy young rock star, would write such a sensitive song about ordinary, lonely people is still surprising to me. Though the similarly melancholy ballad “Yesterday” gets the lion’s share of accolades, I think “Eleanor Rigby” is the better song. The arrangement is more complicated and the lyrics are more evocative. Without devolving into a simplistic story-song, “Eleanor Rigby” manages to paint the listener a few sad vignettes that cut to the very heart of loneliness and the plight of people society at large has forgotten about. Sure, the song is a bit dramatic, perhaps even a bit melodramatic, but I still get chills listening to the track’s mournful strings.
The Beatles dipped their toes into psychedelic music with “I’m Only Sleeping.” A John Lennon song about the joys of staying in bed, the song features reversed or “backward” guitar tracks, a touchstone of psychedelic music, and has an overall druggy feel to it. The song is one of the few Beatles songs that feature an explicit outsider perspective (“I’m a Loser” might be considered a proto-outsider song, “The Fool on the Hill” is a notable example, as is “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”). Was the world judging Lennon because all he wanted to do was sleep or is the song really about drugs (like most things)? It’s difficult to say. During this period Lennon did reportedly enjoy getting high and staying in bed, but I’ve also read that McCartney had to frequently rouse his writing partner from bed before working on their songs. Also worth noting, the interview Lennon gave around this time in which he famously declared The Beatles “bigger than Jesus” was part of an article that contains a quote from a friend of Lennon’s who declared him the “laziest man in England.” So perhaps “I’m Only Sleeping” really is just about napping in bed. Either way, the song’s inventive use of studio trickery was foreshadowing surreal sounds the band would capture later on REVOLVER (and in their subsequent albums).

“Love You To” is Harrison’s best song on REVOLVER and one of the most daring songs the band ever produced. Though he’d used the sitar on RUBBER SOUL, to great effect on “Norwegian Wood,” it was this track where Harrison truly brought Indian music to the band’s sound. Using a sitar, a tabla (hand drum), tanpura (a special rhythm instrument), and Harrison created a sound that no doubt sounded otherworldly to the majority of Western listeners of the time. Besides launching a whole new phase of the band’s creative life, “Love You To” single-handedly popularized the genre of World Music. A mix of philosophical noodling and romantic love, the track was undoubtedly the most sexual song the band had recorded up to that point. Harrison repeatedly states “I’ll make love to you/if you want me to” in the chorus of the song.

Another key influence on The Beatles was Beach Boy Brian Wilson, whose ghost is all over McCartney’s “Here, There and Everywhere.” The most obvious Wilson-trademark found in the song are the ethereal backing vocals. But the core of the song, being in love and having that love make you a better person is almost a reflection of the themes found in Wilson’s own “God Only Knows.” Though the songs were written and recorded around the same time, this can’t be accidental, can it? A more nuanced and mature love song, “Here, There and Everywhere” takes a larger view of the impact of romantic love beyond the early pleasures of love’s first blush (like most early Beatles love songs). The track is less about how love makes one feel and more about the impact love has on one’s outlook. I think that this song is probably a better example of The Beatles doing a Beach Boys-esque song than “Back in the USSR,” which is just a straight parody. The song is nothing but further proof that the band didn’t exist in a vacuum and took cues from the work of their peers (besides Dylan).
I can’t tell you how crushed I was when I first learned that “Yellow Submarine” wasn’t written by Ringo. The rule for 99.999% of Beatles songs is that whoever is singing lead wrote the track. Sadly, Ringo only wrote two songs during his time with The Beatles, “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’s Garden.” The song is a fanciful kiddie track that began life as McCartney trying to write both a song for Ringo to sing and a Donovan-esque number. To McCartney’s credit, even though the song is pretty much nonsense, it works wonderfully with Ringo at the helm (pun intended). That this song would later go on to inspire a super-trippy animated film is just icing on the cake. I’d like to hear McCartney sing this one, though I have a hard time imagining what that would be like. Oddly, two of Ringo’s best-known Beatles songs involve the ocean, but then again England is an island and Liverpool is a port city so I suppose it’s not so odd that the boys would have a healthy interest in the sea. I love the song’s goofy little extras, like the crashing wave sound and the ringing bell. Ringo play-acting as a sailor in between verses is also a nice touch that adds to the song’s theatrical, almost pop-up book-like quality. The Beatles dabbled in so many genres that I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that they ventured into kids music.

“She Said She Said” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” are both ostensibly a dialogue taking place between a man (Lennon) and a woman. “She Said She Said” has a real druggy (acid?) feel to it in which neither party can properly connect or articulate a feeling that they are having. Though the “I know what it’s like to be dead” is definitely the proclamation of a chemically altered mind, “I know what it is to be sad” is a very real thought/feeling. The juxtaposition between the two has always fascinated me. Is the communication breakdown between the two parties the result of drugs or gender? Who can say? Further complicating matters are the fact that the song was inspired by Henry Fonda, who famously told Lennon at a party “I know what it’s like to be dead.” The song pairs nicely with “And Your Bird Can Sing” which is an indictment against materialism over a personal connection. Both songs share an awesome, iconic opening guitar riff (though “And Your Bird Can Sing” edges out “She Said She Said” in this department). In his book All We Are Saying, author David Sheff quotes Lennon as being dismissive of the song, essentially calling it all style and no substance. I disagree and think Lennon was doing what Lennon often did and disparaged his older work in favor of whatever thing he was doing at the time. I’ve always really enjoyed the line “You say you’ve seen Seven Wonders/and your bird is green.” That image always stuck with me and I picked up on that line again when I re-listened to the record.

Similarly, “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got to Get You Into My Life” are very similar McCartney tracks that feel almost like throwbacks to a quainter, simpler time. “Good Day Sunshine” has a very old-timey feel to it, both in its simplicity and with its twinkling piano and optimism. In fact, the track wouldn’t be entirely out of place on The Kinks magnum opus VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY. The shining horns on “Got to Get You Into My Life” have a similar effect, though “Got to Get You Into My Life” features a much rougher-sounding vocal performance from McCartney. It’s almost an R&B song and was famously covered by Earth, Wind, & Fire in 1978, so apparently, I’m not the only one to pick up on this fact. Paul McCartney has gone on the record to state that “Got to Get You Into My Life” is about marijuana, which I find both perplexing and oddly satisfying. Both tracks share a youthful optimism and exuberance that an older version of the band probably couldn’t pull off. McCartney would later revisit this type of old-fashioned/throwback on The White Album (“Martha My Dear” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”) with diminished results.

“For No One” is one of the band’s most poignant and bare-bones songs. Detailing the end of a relationship, Paul McCartney’s song perfectly captures the sadness one feels when one realizes the love is gone. Tastefully understated, the song is memorable for its achingly sad french horn solo near the end. The line “a love that should have lasted years” sounds less accusatory the older I get, which I get is an outside quality that I am bringing to the song. And yet, part of me can’t help but think that McCartney’s choice of words aid this phenomenon by being just a touch vague enough to avoid implying fault on either party. Even Lennon, who could be McCartney’s toughest critic, was a fan of “For No One.” Again, this is another track that lives in the shadow of “Yesterday,” even though I think it does essentially the same thing but better.

Much like “Got to Get You Into My Life,” the song “Dr. Robert” was about drugs. Though the latter was more obviously about drugs than the former, it’s still a bit of a secret drug song. A bit cornball in comparison to many of the band’s other drug songs, “Dr. Robert” is important because it’s ostensibly about the doctor that supplied the band with their first acid trip (a dentist who laced the band’s coffee with the drug after dinner one evening). This track is most notable (in my opinion) for the almost hypnotic quality applied to the lyrics”well, well well you’re feeling fine.” Despite not being as colorful as the band’s later substance songs, this one key feature of the song puts above most other songs of a similar theme recorded by other artists at the time.

The last Harrison-penned song on REVOLVER, “I Want To Tell You” is almost a rallying cry for his creativity. While not exactly stifled, Harrison also didn’t receive the full support of McCartney and Lennon when it came to his songs. “I Want To Tell You” is all about having a tremendous torrent of things to say and the struggle with which Harrison (and really all of us) have trying to express ourselves. There’s a dash of mysticism running through the song, no doubt an influence from his intense studying of all things Eastern. “I Want To Tell You” is a great song because even though it covers a very heady, intellectual topic, the song is still very humble in its presentation (almost low-key in many respects). While not Harrison’s best song, I’d say it was the most emblematic of who he was as an artist and as an individual: highly intellectual with a down-to-earth quality, mystical with an aura of practicality.

The final track on the album is also the best. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a tour de force and easily in my top 5 of all-time Beatles songs. Everything about this song is crafted perfectly, from the odd effect place on Lennon’s vocals to the Indian-influenced drum pattern that Ringo uses. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is probably the first truly great studio track from a band that would soon go on to do nothing but fantastic studio-driven tracks. Using looping tape, The Beatles create an otherworldly soundscape that must have scared the crap out of all the kids tripping on acid the first time they put REVOLVER on. That this is the track to close the album makes the songs feel like an odd, beautiful sunset. The strange, mystical poetry of Lennon’s lyrics are as just a good as anything the man ever wrote. I’m sure this song is highly regarded, but I feel like his later works like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” are more lauded. And I find that sad in a way, because “Tomorrow Never Knows” is easily the equal of both of those tracks.

Perhaps I don’t run in the right crowds, but I feel like REVOLVER is almost a forgotten masterpiece by The Beatles. RUBBER SOUL is usually the transitional Beatles record that gets the most attention, which is a shame because I think REVOLVER is the superior album. Straddling the line perfectly between both periods of the band’s creative life, REVOLVER has everything one thinks of when they think of The Beatles.


On  November 22, 1968 The Kinks released their sixth album THE KINKS ARE THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY (hence to be referred to as VILLAGE GREEN). Upon its release the album was branded a flop and the world moved on. But like a lot of great art, time has been kind to VILLAGE GREEN, and the album is now regarded as one of the band’s best efforts.

VILLAGE GREEN is a very (very, very) English record. It’s also a concept album. These two factors probably contributed to it’s poor reception here in America. Singer-songwriter Ray Davies, who wrote all the songs on the album, celebrates the traditional English country-village (the “Village Green” which is brought up throughout the album), while at the same time lamenting and mourning it’s disappearance. It’s difficult to tell exactly how much of Davies bemoaning is genuine and how much is ironic. The album opens with the song, “The Village Green Preservation Society” which, though sung in a very sincere manner…if clearly meant to be tongue in cheek with it’s list of things the band (as the Preservation Society) wishes to protect: draft beer, china shops, custard pie, strawberry jam (and all different varieties), Sherlock Holmes (and Moriarty), and the whole damn “English speaking vernacular.” It’s all a bit extreme, including the assertion that this “society” is also the “skyscraper condemnation affiliate/God save Tudor houses, antique tables and billiards.”

And yet, even though the song is a bit ridiculous, to the extent that it seems to be a parody…in comes the chorus: “Preserving the old ways from being abused/Protecting the new ways for me and for you/What more can we do?” and I begin to wonder if perhaps Davies is only half poking fun. The answer can be found on the rest of the album, which is nearly 100% earnest in it’s assertion that the times are changing…and it kinda sucks.

Less about “green” spaces transforming into modern skyscrapers (though that’s in there too), VILLAGE GREEN is about how time and the change it brings effects one personal life. Ray Davies is a young-man beginning to realize he’s getting older. There are two themes of VILLAGE GREEN, both are very much intertwined. The first thing the album is about is time. The passage of time, the marking of time, the struggle against the change time brings, and finally the acceptance that one must grow older. The second theme of the album is photography, specifically as a reaction to time.

On a majority of the record the subject of photography/photos/taking pictures comes up. The question Davies seems to be asking throughout is: why do we take photographs? Is it because we love each other (like in “Picture Book” a song so pro-photograph it’s no wonder HP included it in a 2004 digital photography ad campaign) OR do we take photos for darker, more selfish reasons (like in the album closer “People Take Pictures of Each Other”)?

Davies and the rest of The Kinks seem to think it’s a little of both. “Picture Book” is a bouncy, glorious ode-of a song about looking back on one’s life via a big book of pictures. Though the chorus is a bit dark “pictures of each other/to prove we love each other,” the content of the photos described in the song are all seemingly random snapshots of our lives. It’s almost like photography as an extension of our memories. After all, if we don’t remember something, it’s like it never happened. And just like a picture of “a holiday in August/outside a bed and breakfast in sunny Southend,” our memories can be inexplicably random (why DO we remember the odd little things we remember?).

Again, not a bit of “green” on THE VILLAGE GREEN.

The darker side of photography, however, is found in “People Take Pictures of Each Other” (which actually seems like it should be the title of the more well known “Picture Book”). The song has a soft, French-like quality about it. Davies sings about how “People take pictures of the Summer/Just in case someone thought they had missed it/Just to proved that it really existed.” Which leads us to a world or mindset where, it’s not a question of “if you don’t remember it, it didn’t happen” but rather, to a place where “if you have no photographic proof of it…it didn’t happen.” I find that many people in my generation and beyond are obsessed with photos, so much so that many people (parents at a dance recital) agonize so much over the photos that they miss the actual moment. The song also touches on the albums other theme, of time when later one Davies sings: “You can’t picture love that you took from me/When we were young and the world was free/Pictures of things as they used to be/Don’t show me no more, please.” That’s a bold, and frankly powerful lyric…and really encapsulates the complexity of VILLAGE GREEN. The album goes from “Picture Book,” a love letter to photographs…and ends thirteen songs later with the exclamation “show me no more, please.”

That’s why this record is so fucking great. It’s this giant, complex mediation of life and death, disguised as a pop record.

“Do You Remember Walter?” has nothing to do with photos, but it’s a central track to the record. Whereas “The Village Green Preservation Society” is all about trying to hold onto the past, “Do You Remember Walter?” is a frighteningly realistic look at how that fight ALWAYS ends. The song is one man’s recollection of his old school chum, Walter. Walter and the song’s narrator were once young and idealistic–they were going to “fight the world and be free,” with the goal of saving their money and buying a ship to sail the world! Now he’s married and fat, in bed by 8:30. He’s not the cool guy that smoked and drank, and had a bunch of fun with his “mates.” Now he’s this empty shell of the free-spirited kid he once was. And, as the narrator laments, “Walter, you are just an echo of a world I knew so long ago/If you saw me now you wouldn’t even know my name.” This suggests to me, that the narrator–like Walter, lost that battle against time. There is a brief respite from the gloom, tucked away at the end of “Do You Remember Walter?” when Davies sings: “And if I talked about the old times you’d get bored and you ll have nothing more to say/Yes people often change, but memories of people can remain.” Which, in a way, reflects on the albums other theme of photography, in that like our memories, photos can preserve events AND people in the past forever. So Walter is gone, but never forgotten.

A bit of hope.

“Village Green” is a slower song, one that’s essentially a list of all thing country things that the narrator/Davies misses about pastoral Brittan. It’s a good song, notable for mentioning the titular green-space AND also referencing photographs: “American tourists flock to see the village green/They snap their photographs and say gawd darn it/Isn’t it a pretty scene?”

The Kinks ape The Yardbirds on “The Last of the Steam-Powered Trains” which shares many thematic similarities to “Do You Remember Walter?” It’s a bluesy-harmonica fueled stomp that finds Davies proclaiming that he is the last “of the good, old fashioned, steam-powered trains.” This of course, is used as a metaphor for Davies/the narrator’s staunch stand against the endless parade of time: “I’m the last of the good old renegades/All my friends are all middle class and grey/But I live in a museum, so I’m okay.” It’s about trains, but it’s also about being that last holdout against growing up and adult responsibilities.

But it’s not all heavy on VILLAGE GREEN. The album has fifteen tracks, and some have very little to do with any larger theme (except in the most abstract sense). Of these, I enjoy the vaudevillian “Sitting By the Riverside.” With it’s heavy use of keyboard (there’s a great freak-out moment mid-way the song, when the keyboard reaches this climax…this thunderous peak, then crashes and the vocals kick back in, it’s fucking great) and laid-back vocal harmonies, this song reminds me of the Beatles-throwback songs like “Your Mother Should Know” or “When I’m Sixty-Four,” in that it’s a rock band playing a song in a style their parents would have liked. I always find those kind of songs fascinating.

Another non-theme related song I find really interesting is “Big Sky.” “Big Sky” is a trippy, near-psychedelic song–that’s nearly spoken-word. Davies croons and wails about all the injustice/terrible things that the song’s “character” the sky (Big Sky) looks down upon…and shrugs. He shrugs because he’s, well because he’s just so gosh darn big, and our problems are just so small. Is Big Sky God? Does God, like Big Sky, see our problems and find him/her/itself too powerful or mighty to help? Or is Davies being a bit sarcastic, is Big Sky not really overwhelmed but rather complacent?

“People lift up their hands and they look up to the big sky/But big sky is too big to sympathize/Big Sky’s too occupied/Though he would like to try/And he feels bad inside/Big sky’s too big to cry.”

What is Big Sky “too occupied” doing? Is he too busy staring down at our suffering to do anything about it? Maybe God’s hypnotized in such a manner, maybe that’s why we have war and disease and suffering. Then again, isn’t that what we all do? Don’t we as people look at other suffering and throw our hands up and say “I’m too busy to help!” What are we too busy doing? If The Kink’s “Big Sky” is God, then we were certainly made in his/her/it’s image.

From contemplating such large, theological questions, The Kinks switch over to the “Star-fucker” phenomenon on the song “Starstruck.” Which of course is about a girl who runs around, going nuts because she’s starstruck. Other album oddities include a song about fat cat (“Phenomenal Cat”), and an Orwellian-ode to Animal control of the world (“Animal Farm”). All three of these tracks make fantastic use of the mellotron–which allowed the band to simulate woodwind instruments (though they sounded pretty real to me).

I’ve probably over-thought this record. I know I’m misrepresenting it–it’s not a dodgy, stuffy old record with a lot of things to “say.” VILLAGE GREEN is just a rich, detailed, thought-provoking piece of art that, like a good painting or film–can stimulate the mind and, if you chose…give you something to think about.

Or you can hum along with it. It’s full of wonderful, beautiful hooks. VILLAGE GREEN is a very literate, yet very lively rock record. And we all know how few of THOSE are being made today. What do I have to do, put it in your hands? Go. Get it. Listen.

Classic Albums Revisited: PET SOUNDS

For the past few years I’ve wanted to write an epic, all-encompassing essay about The Beach Boys’ classic album PET SOUNDS.  I’ve sat down on at least two occasions and actually started, only to give up in disgust.  It seems like everything that could be said about has been said, by people far more knowledgable than myself, so why bother? Because I can’t stop listening and thinking about PET SOUNDS.  My adoration for this record has long since moved past obsession and I guess I want to try to make sense of how that happened.

Like all good art, PET SOUNDS is best described as a reflecting pool–esthetically beautiful and mirror-like in that we can see some of ourselves within it.  Sorting fact from legend in regards to it’s creation/recording is almost beyond impossible at this point.  It’s all too easy to say that PET SOUNDS is the singular work of one brilliant, tragic genius.  As an American, the notion that a complex, challenging piece of work springing from one rebellious individual is both romantic and affirming of our continental-myth of the “lone cowboy.”  On the other hand, the years have been kind to PET SOUNDS, much kinder than many of the people involved in creating it could have ever imagined, as a result many people have stepped up and claimed credit for an album they openly ridiculed during it’s inception.

PET SOUNDS is sort of the bastard son few people wanted to acknowledge at it’s birth–but later, as it matured and did good by itself–well, then many were practically falling over themselves to establish themselves as it’s parent. Does it matter that Al Jardine may or may not have insisted The Beach Boys include “Sloop John B” on the record? Or that he (or Carl) may have been solely responsible for it’s amazing arrangement?  At this stage in my life, my appreciation for PET SOUNDS, I don’t care about these matters.  All that is important for me is that PET SOUNDS exists, vacuum sealed from time and the bitter in-fighting of songwriters, musicians, arrangers, producers, studio technicians, and hangers-on.

Released in May of 1966, PET SOUNDS did not exist for me until the early 2000’s when I happened upon it in my Uncle’s CD collection.  I was in Nashville, trying figure out (among other things) who I was and what the hell I was doing.  I gave it a brief listen, made myself a copy, and promptly forgot all about it.  I’ve always been a “Beatles person.”  Growing up, The Beach Boys were that lame, striped-shirt-wearing novelty band that briefly styled themselves as “The American Beatles.”  People (mostly rock critics from Rolling Stone magazine) would, from time to time, blow my mind by placing PET SOUNDS near the top of many “Best Albums” lists, but otherwise–The Beach Boys had little credibility.  The only place I ever heard them was on the local golden-oldies radio station, placed strategically between Herman’s Hermits and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.

I still cannot recall exactly what compelled me to dust-off my copy of PET SOUNDS, but around 2008 I did.   Almost everything stupid (for lack of a better word) about The Beach Boys is missing from this record.  There are no dated, lame-ass novelty songs about surfing or hot-rodding.  No, PET SOUNDS is 13 songs about love, the confusion of youth, self-doubt, self-realization, loneliness, and also “Sloop John B” is tacked on (thanks Al/Carl).  The music is lush, full of complex and achingly beautiful arrangements.  Lyrically, the PET SOUNDS is almost the exact opposite of the music–the lyrics are so simple they sometimes strike me as slightly moronic.  I mean that in the best way possible, sort of like how people always remark how many startling truisms spring from the mouths of very young children.  The lyrical content of PET SOUNDS is simple but never basic, the observations aren’t plain and vanilla–but shockingly universal.

And that, I think, is why I’ve been obsessing about it these past few years (and why older people have been obsessing about it for decades).

The album-opener, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is probably the most recognized track, and a perfect example of what I’m talking about.  The song is about first-love, not silly puppy love, but actual honest-to-god love.  Anyone that’s ever felt that for the first time can completely understand the song, which is about the yearning to essentially always feel that feeling by being able to spend every minute of every hour with your lover.  This song encapsulates a very real feeling I think just about everyone has had.  And even though the sentiment may not be smart or realistic, that’s not the point–“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is an explanation for every stupid teenager who’s ever run off an gotten married.  Still, an album filled with this sort of idealized romantic love wouldn’t be emotionally satisfying or realistic.  PET SOUNDS takes things further than 99% of pop albums (up to that time and since) with the very next song “You Still Believe In Me.”

“You Still Believe In Me.”opens with a confession that the song’s narrator has completely fucked up–and yet she still loves him.  Here, the wonder is not in the bliss of love but the endurance of love.  He tries, promises, and fails…and yet she still believes in him. “That’s Not Me” is another song about failure, this time the song’s narrator has decided to give up chasing foolish, impulse (saying “That’s not me”).  More than just a song of redemption, what impresses me the most about “That’s Not Me” is the self-realization that one’s dreams (and their pursuit) can not only be harmful but also maybe the opposite of what we really want. Stoned or sober that’s a mind-blowing realization.

This is what self-realization looks like, kids.

And then there is “God Only Knows.”  Not only is it hauntingly beautiful musically, but the it’s astonishingly rational while still being romantic at the same time.  Unlike a traditional pop-love song where the singer expounds about how he can’t live without the love of his life, “God Only Knows” acknowledges the fact that both he and the world would go on spinning without her, but he’s eternally grateful that he doesn’t have to be without her (because God only know where he’d be without her). I can live without you, but I don’t want to is infinitely more romantic than the foolish adolescent declaration of “I can’t live, if living is without you” (sorry Badfinger).  And you know, if PET SOUNDS was just about the complexities of love it would still be a damn good album–but it’s the introspective stuff that really pushes the album from “good” to “masterpiece.”

“I Know There’s An Answer” is about the search for the meaning of both life and self.  It’s about all those Nowhere Men sitting in their Nowhere Land, and how we ‘re all lost and adrift in lives.  There is no magic bullet answer that’s going to fix everything and make us happy, we have to save ourselves with our own answer.  Also, there’s no way of helping all the lonely people of the world without first helping yourself.

And much like “You Still Believe in Me” responds to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” the song “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” responds to “I Know There’s An Answer.”   “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” isn’t just my favorite song on PET SOUNDS, it’s also my all-time favorite Beach Boys song.  “I Know There’s An Answer” affirms that yes, there is an answer for all of us, but “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is about what happens when we can’t find that answer.  It’s about failure and self-doubt.  It’s about feeling absolutely stuck–as an artist, lover, liver of life.  It’s about the profound sadness and dissatisfaction that stalk all of us throughout our lives.  And mostly, it’s about that feeling we all have at least once in our lives, that we don’t fit in or belong anywhere.  If you’re the least bit human you will find yourself relating to this song.  And while the song is, on the surface very sad, I find it one of the most comforting pieces of music ever written.  Not just in the misery-loves-company sort of way (though I suppose there is a great deal of that), no–“I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is like a music hug for me because it let’s me know that I’m not alone in feeling lost and sad.

Lastly, there is the bittersweetness of “Caroline No.”  It’s the final track on the album, and it’s all about the terrible way time strips us of the things we cherish the most.   It’s heartbreakingly sad and every time I go back to my hometown I’m reminded of Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again.”  Again, it’s the comforting universality of the song’s sentiment that gives the song it’s power.  Rather than struggle for a cheesy  redemptive silver-lining, the “Caroline No” does us the public service of letting the listener know that that’s just how life/the human condition is.  Rarely does commercial art, let alone pop music, deal with just weighty (and frankly unpleasant) topics without resorting to some kind of cliched “happy ending.”  What do unrealistic portrayals of life and love really give us, beyond a fleeting bit of pleasure?  They doom us to even greater sorrow, hoisted up by a Hollywood endings none of us are going to get.  The braver thing, I think, is to stare at both our souls and our sorrow right in the face.  So in that respect, PET SOUNDS is probably the only mirror I’ll ever need.