Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Countdown to Ecstacy: The Day After

It's here. It's out. And I've heard it. (As have many, many other people by this point--hopefully enough for a Billboard chart position, since that sort of thing used to matter a great deal to Mr. Wilson.)

I'm not normally big on buying an album or seeing a movie the day it comes out--I can only recall Radiohead's Hail to the Thief as an exception--but after hearing about the great unfinished Smile since high school 25 years ago and wondering what it would sound like, I had to do it this time. Guess the impulse was akin to all my friends who wanted to see Fahrenheit 911 on opening weekend as a political/commercial statement. (Better living through shopping: always a dangerous notion.)

But I digress: on to the album, which is getting only its second playing in my home as I type. And round two is even more powerful than the first listen, now that the initial surprise about song sequence and new lyrics is over and I see how the whole thing flows.

So "Surf's Up" is not the great emotional climax of the album (more like its centerpiece); "Good Vibrations," of all things, is instead. I never really believed that GV belonged here in the first place; that it was simply the most recent single, which industry concerns would stick on the next available album. Sort of like "Sloop John B" in the middle of Pet Sounds: different lyricist (and lyrical style), major interruption of the flow. But lo and behold, it works here, particularly thanks to the reprise of "Our Prayer" immediately before it. (BTW, if you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about here, I apologize--and encourage you to race out and get your own copy of Smile. Trust me: if you're interested in any of the genres of music I normally discuss here--Brazilian, experimental, electronic, pop standards, etc.--you'll find something to connect with in the album.)

There's so much here--both in the recording itself, and in this newest chapter of the legend which has built up around it--that I couldn't begin to cover it all in one post. Plus I have to get to work. So I'll just spew a little love and exhiliration and hope to return to the subject later.

Speaking of getting to work, here's an interesting thread on a Smile message board regarding the plight of all those people (like me) who have assembled their own versions of the album from fragments over the years, and particularly those who have never finished theirs. Is the Wilson 2004 version now the last word on the subject, or is there room for further tinkering?

No matter: this "new" album is stunning, well worth the 37-year wait.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Countdown to Ecstacy: T Minus 1

Tomorrow's the big day for the Smile album. Tried to organize a buying-and-listening party, but it didn't quite work out. Guess I'll pick up a copy at my local indie record store of choice before tomorrow night's rehearsal for my next big performance undertaking and then listen late at night.

By way of a connection between this Beach Boys talk and my current Brazilian fixation, I've been meaning to mention that critics have called attention to Brian Wilson's use of a bossa nova beat in "Busy Doin' Nothin'" and of samba rhythms in "Passing By," both of which can be heard on the Friends+20/20 twofer. Consider it done.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Countdown to Ecstacy: T minus 5

I've been wanting to take a little break from writing about my current obsession with that crazy Brazilian sound to honor an earlier (and ongoing) musical obsession, probably with a little countdown like this...


But the big day is kind of slipping up on me, and as of now there are only FIVE DAYS TO GO before the most legendary unfinished album in pop music history (no hyperbole there) finally hits record stores around the world.

In a climate where the latest, say, Korn CD gets billed as "highly anticipated" even though the last one came out a year earlier, this is mind-blowing. I've been learning track listings and other nuggets over the last few weeks, and the suspense is nearly unbearable. What will it be like to no longer be able to refer to "the legendary unfinished album" when it's ... finished? Guess we'll find out.

Meanwhile, today's "All Things Considered" segment on Brian Wilson and the album is lengthy and poignant. The page where it's archived also contains links to a bunch of other audio clips, plus photos of the recent recording sessions.

It's all too good to be true.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Room to Smile

There's a really interesting interview with British DJ Gilles Peterson on the September 17 2004 edition of the BBC radio program The World. He's put together a two-disc compilation of his favorite Brazilian music, one disc of oldies and one of new dance music. Lots of audio clips of tracks I'd never heard before, and some interesting perspective, including this (delivered from the vantage point of a highly-paid purveyor of dance music for bored Europeans):

"I just think in Brazil there's obviously as much pain as there is anywhere else in the world, and I think that when there's pain there has to be room to smile. And I think that's usually in places that have a lot of unhappiness that you get some incredibly uplifiting and beautiful poignant music from the heart which has suffered but can make you smile at the end of it."