Saturday, May 15, 2010


By Mike Baron

There have been Beatle imitators and acolytes as long as there have been Beatles. Beatle imitators are legion. Three of the best are the Vinyl Kings, the Merrymakers, and The Rembrandts.

For the Beach Boys it’s another story. It took a long time for the collective musical consciousness to absorb Brian Wilson’s innovative chord progressions but finally, through osmosis and the ever-expanding pool of ever more sophisticated musicians, bands have finally caught up with the Beach Boys. Among the earliest and best of the Beach Boys pastiches is “Pale and Precious” by the Dukes of Stratospheare: Chips From the Chocolate Fireball.

The Dukes are actually XTC slumming. While most of Dukes deals in psychedelia inspired (again) by the Beatles as well as Jefferson Airplane, Floyd, Squeeze and a host of other bands, “Pale and Precious,” the album closer, draws inspiration from both early and late Beach Boys, combining the doo-wop choruses of “Let’s Do It Again/I Get Around” with the Van Dyke Parks collaboration “Surf’s Up.”

The first half of “Pale” features the advanced chord structures and fragile vocals of “Surf’s Up.” Midway the song breaks down into primordial Beach Boy doo-wop. This is an essential track for anyone who loves “Surf’s Up,” “Heroes and Villains,” and “Good Vibrations.”

Jeffrey Foskett has toured with the Beach Boys so he comes by his sound honestly. Foskett has his own voice which is apparent in any cover he does, but he is also the author of “Thru My Window,” the ultimate short and sweet Beach Boys song. Play this for the non-cognoscenti and they will swear it’s a long lost Brian Wilson composition. “Thru My Window” appears on several Jeffrey Foskett CDs including Stars in the Sand and Thru My Window. The latter used to be “the best Beach Boys album they never recorded.” No longer. That honor now belongs to Explorers Club.

Explorers Club’s Freedom Wind goes beyond the Beach Boys to build a near perfect distillation of everything that makes the Beach Boys great. Freedom Wind was my album of the year in ’08 and each new listening brings greater joy, the sign of a classic. If you love the Beach Boys you’ve got to get this record. No mere imitation, every song uses Brian Wilson chords to build unexpected yet logical pay-offs with stacked harmonies that pack a sneaky and unexpected emotional punch.

Sunrise Highway is another new band that uses the Beach Boys as a jumping off point. Less purely Wilsonian than Explorers Club, Sunrise Highway nonetheless effortlessly evokes the Beach Boys with its sunny harmonies and bittersweet chord progressions Songs like “Endless Summer” and “Lonely Guy” are obvious tributes. The rest of the album never strays far from the reservation while remaining totally fresh. “Big Brown Eyes” could easily be an Eagles song. The rest of the record is sui generis and pure delight.

The Sunchymes out of Northampton, England is another modern band eagerly following the Beach Boys trail. (Sunchymes is actually Aaron Hemington.) We are at the stage where Beach Boys-inspired bands are no longer a novelty. Their collective sound buoys the state of contemporary music