Brian Wilson Reigns Over "Pet Sounds" (3/20/98)

High Llamas, Cold and Bouncy (V2 Records 1998) - Cold and Bouncy continues the vision of Irishman Sean O'Hagan (from County Cork), who has been compared to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. The follow-up to the acclaimed Gideon Gaye (which is also being re-released this spring), the new release follows O'Hagan's interest in the layered, West Coast pop sound.

O'Hagan originally played with the long-forgotten Microdisney, before forming the High Llamas. O'Hagan has appeared on several albums by Stereolab, and has also toured with American cosmic rockers, Mercury Rev.

Cold and Bouncy features 16 tracks with a consistent, techno-meets-classic pop sound. O'Hagan's interest with the 60's doesn't stop there, as the High Llamas have also performed as Love (with Arthur Lee), faultlessly recreating classics from such albums as Forever Changes.

A chameleon with familiar skin, the High Llamas are an intriguing blend.

Beach Boys, Pet Sounds Sessions (Capitol 1996) - In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the landmark, Pet Sounds, Capitol Records has finally released a four-CD set which includes an all-new stereo mix, a cleaned-up mono mix, studio out-takes, and separate vocal and instrumental trackings for each cut. A beauty to behold, Pet Sound Sessions is a worthy addition to the Beach Boys canon.

Sure, four CDs of Pet Sounds seems like overkill. But the albums reveal the full dynamic of Brian Wilson's studio genius on such classics as "Wouldn't It Be Nice," and "Caroline, No."

The new collection was initially scheduled for release in the spring of 1996, but was delayed by the petty squabbles of certain band members who felt they did not receive adequate credit for their contributions (though all have made a darn good living off the Brothers Wilson.)

The album also includes a 100-page plus booklet in which Capitol Records sought comments and remembrances from nearly everyone who was involved with Pet Sounds, including engineers, producers, co-songwriter (and ad man), Tony Scott, and all available studio musicians.

The four CDs illustrate the brilliant studio technique of Brian Wilson, who created the lush instrumental tracks with some of L.A.'s top jazz musicians, then subsequently brought the Beach Boys into the studio to record their classic four-part harmonies (the studio musicians didn't even know the melody when they recorded the backing instrumentals). (In a sad note, brother Carl Wilson died of cancer earlier this spring, leaving 51-year-old Brian as the only remaining Wilson).

Which leads to this point. Some listeners may compare Sean O'Hagan to Brian Wilson. But spend a few minutes with Pet Sound Sessions and you'll recognize the sea of difference between the two artists: O'Hagan creates pleasing but superficial synthesizer-based music, while Wilson created delicate and richly rewarding recordings, in a true symphonic sense.

While I consider myself a big Beach Boys fan, I never really enjoyed Pet Sounds (which Paul McCartney considers one of the most important pop albums of our generation) until I listed to the four-CD box set. But now I get it. In a big way. While not for everyone, Pet Sound Sessions is a testament to the skill and beauty of Brian Wilson.

- Randy Krbechek © 1998

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