The Beach Boys single-handedly popularized surf culture in America. Fine. The Beach Boys were the West Coast nemesis of the Beatles. Great. The Beach Boys are the commercial inseminators of surf rock. Yippee-skip.
I know, I've read the books. But I'm sorry--to anyone under 30, the Beach Boys mean little more than Bartles & Jaymes-sponsored reunion tours with car-song medleys and matching cruise-ship shirts. Beach Boys. Buffett. They all start to blur. When I think "Beach Boys," I think Cocktail soundtrack. I think Tom Cruise shaking up a mango margarita for some rich man's wife while "Kokomo" plays in the background.
So you can understand my curiosity when I received the new press packet Capitol Records sent to indie-rock critics to pump up the label's recent reissue of the 1966 album Pet Sounds (widely regarded as the Beach Boys' masterpiece by critics who were there). A letter from Search and Destroy Promotions, contracted by Capitol to target a publicity campaign at 20-somethings, described Pet Sounds as "an introspective teen/young adult angst album."
I put the promo on my turntable. This is what I heard, first song: "Wouldn't it be nice if we were older/Then we wouldn't have to wait so long." Holy shit, I thought, now that's angst for the '90s. Never mind Nirvana, kids, here's the Beach Boys!
Seems Search and Destroy is laying it on thick, but Revolver wonders: Is this a sign of things to come? Will all the majors soon be huckstering similar generation-hopping exploitations of their back catalogues? If so, the times demand a closer look at the Pet Sounds promo campaign. Below, Revolver presents a new crash course--How to Sell Dino Rock to the Slacker Generation, According to the Majors (all quotes taken from Search and Destroy's promo packet):
* First, drop the names of some cool indie labels. ("If Brian Wilson was 22 years old now, he'd probably be recording for Merge or Sara or Sub Pop Records.")
* Then dis sounds that are hot today. Be sure to use punk 'zine-style contractions. ("Brian Wilson was, and still is, far cooler and more innovative than 98 percent of yer tape-loopin', Ban-Lon-wearin', twee weird pop or garage shit flying across the counter at yer local record shoppes.")
* Next, toss in the Kurt Cobainish, tortured visionary factor ("Most of the other Beach Boys hated this album when Brian played the tracks for them") and downplay that you're promoting one of the most mainstream bands ever. ("The Pet Sounds album was a commercial disappointment in terms of sales at the time, but it won much European praise at the time.")
* Finally, toss in some sort of Gen X pop-icon figure, preferably subversive. ("One more tidbit to pique yer interest. Charles Manson [and family] briefly lived with Dennis Wilson in his Brentwood mansion in '68.") Heh, heh. Psycho killers are cool.
P.S. Anybody know what the hell "Ban-Lon" is?
A Man and His Moog
Four-track recordings are making it out of the living room and onto the "record shoppe" shelves with increasing frequency nowadays, even from musicians who can afford a real studio. Mac McCaughan (singer/guitarist for Superchunk, owner of Merge Records) recently busted out his four-track on a rural road in North Carolina and laid down two tracks for his solo acoustic project Portastatic. The results are on the new Spying on the Spys seven-inch. The title song and "Do You Want to Buy a Bridge?" are more minimalist than Portastatic's recent releases. McCaughan's Moog--a '70s-style synthesizer and close relative of the theremin, currently featured in a 32-page Moog history/tribute in the Beastie Boys-owned mag Grand Royal--provides a subtle, spacey background for his acoustic guitar, and a quiet, second vocal track heightens the atmospheric quality of McCaughan's falsetto voice. The subject matter is both sides of the love coin--"Spys" is an infatuation song ("I might follow you anywhere"), while "Do You Want to Buy a Bridge?" takes the pissed-off ex-lover angle ("I never loved you, fucking you was great"). (Merge, P.O. Box 1235, Chapel Hill, NC 27514)
Boston busker-grrl Mary Lou Lord (the same one Courtney Love decked backstage at a show a couple years ago) has put out her final seven-inch for Kill Rock Stars before her major-label debut. On Martian Saints, Mary Lou's sound is fuller than ever (most of her previous work was solo acoustic), thanks to a theremin in the mix (they're all the rage these days) and a three-piece back-up band. The B-sides "Salem '76" and "I Figured You Out" (written by Heatmiser's Elliot Smith) progressively strip down the sound--"Salem '76" loses one of the back-up players and "I Figured You Out" is only Mary Lou and Elliot. Some call it the new folk, but it rocks all the same--just slower. (Kill Rock Stars, 120 NE State Street, Olympia, WA 98501)
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Tempe's Slugger just came out of the studio with a self-financed seven-inch that's in your local record store now. This girl-fronted four-piece is one of those bands for whom shitty production (it was recorded live, with no tracking) actually seems an asset. The muddy guitar and occasional static accentuate the contrast between the heavy guitar distortion and singer Yolanda Bejarano's piercingly sweet voice. The A-side, "Girl," is an exercise in controlled aggression--you tensely wait for the song to explode into Sonic Youth-style chaos, but it never happens. This single is proof that the Valley needs more girls in the studios (and bands, too).
Third One's the Charm
San Francisco's prolific pop-punkers J Church managed to squeeze in one more album before the end of '96, making it three for the year (not counting the foreign singles compilations). The Drama of Alienation is a pretty downer LP overall, sporting your typical J Church fare--hyper power riffs thrashing about in songs of alienation. Quick lyric samples--"I am the undisputed king of an infinite amount of nothing. . . . Terrified of being wrong I've chosen not to choose. . . ."
As gloomy as the Church boys get, this Drama's a valuable catharsis for those Prozac moments. (Honest Don's Hardly Used Recordings, P.O. Box 192027, San Francisco, CA 94119-2027)