Monday, May 24, 2010

Album Review: The Explorers Club - Freedom Wind

The Explorers Club: Freedom Wind
[Dead Oceans 2008]


If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, consider the Beach Boys basking in adulation (not like they need it), courtesy of the Explorers Club. It’s impossible to discuss the Explorers Club, a seven-man group out of Charleston, South Carolina, without mentioning the Beach Boys. From the warm vocal harmonies to the shimmery 60’s pop melodies to the fun-in-the-sun lyrics, their debut Freedom Wind is a thorough, seemingly non-ironic tribute to the surf rock legends.

While borrowing from other groups of the classic rock and roll era like the Beatles and the Zombies, the band’s loyalty to the sound and aesthetic of the Beach Boys is the dominating theme of the album. In fact, the Explorers Club never sounds too far off from a cover band of their obvious idols. But the band has greater ambitions than that, whether you call it a revitalization of the sound or a retread.

Opener “Forever” sets the stage beautifully, as the lightly echoing drums and twangy guitar introduce cleanly polished vocal harmonies that culminate into an uplifting outro. Album single “Do You Love Me” thunders along with a soaring chorus and saxophone wankery. With the comparable catchiness of “Do You Love Me” and other songs of a similar ascending tempo, the single could very easily have been the heartfelt “Hold Me Tight” or “Forever.” The songs on Freedom Wind distinguish themselves with memorable harmonies and catchy choruses, and yet the rigid 60’s aesthetic and the limitations of their own style of music prevents any of them from being a runaway hit.

While the youthful harmonies impress throughout the album, it’s on the slower songs that the gracefulness of the singing really shines, as with the gentle layered chorus of “Lost My Head” and the beautiful melancholy of “If You Go.” The grace of these tracks contrast sharply with the unnaturally grating voice on “Honey, I Don’t Know Why,” which sticks out like a sore thumb and is one of the album’s few missteps.

In addition to the 60’s production style and the 60’s vocals, the Explorers Club of course provide 60’s lyrics, but more specifically, lyrics in the style of early Beach Boys. Freedom Wind pedals in the magic of young love: pledges of devotion, daydreaming of that perfect girl, and fears of separation are dealt with charming simplicity. While the Explorers Club may earn detractors for their use of lyrics as aesthetic rather than lyrics as a vehicle for deeper, more creative messages, the words carry a refreshing innocence that seems thoroughly appropriate for their indulgences in shiny, catchy pop. This is perhaps best evidenced in the chorus of “Do You Love Me:” “Do you love me/ Like I love you?/ And do you need me/ Like I need you?”

As much like the Beach Boys as the Explorers Club are, you may ask: Why not just listen to the Beach Boys? This absolutely is a conundrum for the band. In a critical assessment of Freedom Wind, the band’s style could be described, at best, as a bright, catchy, and enjoyable ode to the Beach Boys’ sound packaged for the 2000s, or, at worst, an artistically unoriginal and insignificant rehashing of a classic era of a classic rock and roll band. While the Explorers Club surely don’t approach the genius or individuality of the “real deal,” their appeal is just like that of much of the Beach Boys early music, particularly pre-Pet Sounds: angelic harmonies and heartwarming pop. In the Explorers Club’s future, they may be best served by the growth of their own sound, rather than forever keeping the Beach Boys aesthetic close to the chest. But for now, to overthink Freedom Wind would be to deprive yourself of a pleasantly charming pop album.

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