Like so many other things, it all began with The Beatles. The style that came to be known variously as baroque pop, orchestral pop, chamber pop, etc. can basically be traced back to 1966, when The Beatles started crafting their own brand of art songs with classically styled string arrangements, like Eleanor Rigby, right around the same time their American rivals The Beach Boys were getting orchestral themselves on Pet Sounds. Soon the world was awash in pop/rock combos with big ideas” tinkling harpsichords, tugging cello lines, and tart violin phrases were placed atop ˜60s pop songs like frosted flowers adorning a wedding cake. While the style would forever after be associated with the ˜60s, baroque pop never really stopped influencing subsequent generations of bands, from ˜80s acts like The Three O’Clock and XTC alter ego The Dukes of Stratosphear to the Elephant 6 collective of the ˜90s (Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal, et al), and beyond.
But while the sound may have started in the busy brains of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney, baroque pop’s standard-bearers, the artists who truly came to epitomize the style, were The Zombies and The Left Banke. For British Invasion heroes The Zombies, their 1968 swan song, Odessey and Oracle [sic]”recorded in ’67”was a high-water mark both in the advancement of orchestral pop and the oeuvre of the group itself. On the other side of the Atlantic, young New York band The Left Banke was already at work on its second album of baroque-pop gems by the time Odessey was released. Their ’67 debut had included such heart-stoppingly gorgeous hits as Walk Away Renee and Pretty Ballerina, and even after boy-genius keyboardist Mike Brown departed, they soldiered on with 1968’s outstanding The Left Banke Too. But by the time 1969 rolled around, both bands were basically done, and only the aforementioned masterpieces were left to influence budding chamber-pop disciples.
You don’t have to be stoned to be psychedelic. Sure, people tend to tag psychedelia as trippy, but that appellation has as much to do with the transporting quality of the best psychedelic music as it does with anything Timothy Leary ever espoused. After all, even Jimi Hendrix himself famously described the titular satori-like state described in Are You Experienced? as being not necessarily stoned, but beautiful. But if you’re after a more modern example, turn toward The Sufis, a young Nashville-based trio of psychedelic rockers whose driving force, Calvin LaPorte, observes, Bands who say they’re psychedelic but don’t really sound like they are, we encounter them all the time, and it’s pretty much guys who just smoke a lot of weed, and the music sounds better when you’re stoned. I think that’s what that kind of ‘psychedelic’ is, but we wanted to hone in more on the arrangement of psychedelic music.
Together with guitarist Jay Smith and drummer Evan Smith, multi-instrumentalist LaPorte pays homage to the swirling psych-pop sounds of the ˜60s on The Sufis’ self-titled debut album. And while his primary influences were making records before he was born, LaPorte comes by his inspirations naturally. He was first bitten by the paisley-patterned bug as a child, via his father’s record collection. I’ve been listening to that kind of stuff since I was six or seven, he recalls, The Beatles, I heard [Pink Floyd‘s Syd Barrett-fronted 1967 single] ˜See Emily Play’ really early on, seven or eight. And he [LaPorte’s father] had a lot of Beach Boys, that’s definitely one of the big influences. (more…)
America’s band is back, with their first new album in 16 years. That’s Why God Made The Radio marks the return of Brian Wilson; Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks work together to build a sea of close knit harmonies, layered over finely crafted pop tunes, with an undeniable SoCal aesthetic. The nostalgia works surprisingly well, and comes off as endearing, not corny. While there are plenty of references to hot-rods and turtle-wax, most have been replaced with retrospective themes, looking back on life. The album will never be able to compete with the seminal 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds, but it will serve as a nice book end to a glorious run as America’s greatest band. Enjoy your ride into the sunset boys, you’ve got our attention.