“Well daddy, don’t you know that things go in cycles, the way that Bobby Brown is just ampin’ like Michael.” – Q-Tip
No one summed up the concept of retro comebacks like Q-Tip did in Tribe’s “Excursions.” And just to prove his point, now you can replace Bobby Brown with Justin Timberlake, or even Chris Brown to keep at least one of the words the same. Yes, Q, things do indeed go in cycles, and one need go no further for proof than the Explorers Club. Recent indie music hasn’t been a stranger to the genius and influence of Brian Wilson. Just ask Grizzly Bear, Panda Bear, and a mess of other bands that may not be as ursine as the former. But no one has been as overtly head over heels in love with the Beach Boys’ sound as the Explorers Club. TEC, who is not to be confused with the massive prog side project of the same name (with members of Dream Theater and Yes), may not be from SC, standing for Southern California, but they are from SC, standing for South Carolina. And like the hundreds of billboards down I-95 advertising `South of the Border’ just over the Carolina demarcation, it feels like this kind of direct homage has been a looong time coming. Thankfully, it’s done so well, you just can’t fault it one bit, meaning it is the polar opposite of the overwhelmingly disappointing aforementioned `South of the Border.’
Freedom Wind, a title that sounds a little more like a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute than a Beach Boys appreciation (and that closing title track is truly separate from the rest), is testament to how we like to remember the Beach Boys. We’d all like to remember the Wilsons, Al Jardine and Mike Love in cardigans feeding baby goats or at the very least in matching striped shirts in front of a `woodie’ (that’s the wood-paneled wagon, you pervs!) and carrying longboards. We’d rather forget the many lawsuits, the bad blood, the tragic deaths and the inglorious rants at Rock Hall induction ceremonies. We’d rather forget the later Stamos backed missteps, the subsequent casino tours, and the debilitating bouts with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Freedom Wind, if nothing else, reminds us of those wonderful, salty sea air and sun drenched times of the Beach Boys, the days when you’d catch a wave and you’d be sitting on top of the world. Just as Brian Wilson was influenced by Phil Spector’s `Wall of Sound,’ so too are the Explorers Club. One listen to the drum intro to “Forever” puts you back into that magnificent girl group era that Spector made popular. And then Jason Brewer’s voice comes in, backed by his group’s harmony vocals, and you’re stunned this is a `new’ group.
I’d imagine that if you were shopping in a record store, and saw the vinyl version of this album, you might think it were an actual band from the ’60s. The retro look of the album cover, from the vintage clothing and All Summer Long photocomposition to the font and the “Hi-Fi” logo in the corner would be enough, but to top it off, there’s an intentional distressed ring on the sleeve. Listening to the album would cause even further confusion. The only real evidence of modernity is the copyright date. And even then, some consumers might think it a reissue, like the upcoming long out-of-print Dennis Wilson album, Pacific Ocean Blue. Brewer’s gorgeous falsetto shines throughout the album, as do the deep and rich backing vocals, especially on tracks such as “Don’t Forget the Sun,” the exquisite “Lost My Head,” and “Do You Love Me?” But the stunning instrumental, “Summer Air,” even without the vocal majesty, is a song to be reckoned with.
Freedom Wind is a celebration of the Beach Boys in the best possible way. There’s simply no way to separate the two bands on any logical level. The Explorers Club is trapped in some kind of Twilight Zone episode where the only Beach Boys albums that exist are the ones between 1965 and 1971, from Today! to Surf’s Up. But the music presented here is mostly grounded in Pet Sounds, the pre-eminent Beach Boys album. The production techniques, the lush harmonies and the insular feel of the lyrics and lonely melodies are all post-Brian Wilson background retreat and pre-Fataar and Chaplin incursion. In other words, the Explorers Club capture Wilson’s music at its tortured best, yet make it seem as effortless and as infectious as it was the first time around. And, just because I can’t help myself…”Hey man, is that Freedom Wind? Well, turn it up!”
The Beach Boys- Pet Sounds
The Beach Boys- Sunflower
Uh, the Beach Boys- Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)