Saturday, May 31, 2014

Upshot: Smile '66

 Compilation (single artist)

Okay, so here is one of those things I was telling you good people about earlier... The question being I guess, like why am I doing another Smile mix? I mean I've done two already, and I'm guessing everyone in the so called community has heard them by now. So the point being... whaaaat?

Here's the thing, you guys... Just wait...

(Are you waiting yet?)..............

Wait.. Breathe in....

Okay, so we just got rid of all the stragglers.

So here's the deal: my Smile '66 is essentially what Brian had in his arsenal as of New Years Eve, 1966, no more and no less. What this is is an attempt to get the real Smile out, per tracklist, before the insanity really took hold. 

What this is not is another Smile mix attempting to emulate the 2004 abortion recreation. What we're going to do right here is go back ("how far you goin' back?") wayyyyy back.. And it goes. A. Little. Something. Like. This...

While you ponder that exceedingly sophisticated question in your heads, let me take advantage of your nostalgic state for nineties hip-hop and crow for a second. To put it bluntly, I, Mr. Fonzie J. Robocop, have figured out the first truly passable Smile mix. Many have tried and failed. I may have failed as well, but mine is better. Okay. You still say I suck...

Well you're probably right, but here's the deal. This is the best Smile mix you've ever heard. Real talk; this is the one where, if my mixing skills are what I think they are, and all the years and years of pouring Smile into my head have resonated worth a fuck, then I think... hope!.. you might see it my way.

Confused yet? Good. I see my powers are working. In a perfect world, this would be the Smile you know, only it's different.. and better. But get this you guys (wait for it) -- I have stuck faithfully with the original tracklist. Yes! You know the one:

So the typical Smile bro mentality would say like, "oh, where is 'Our Prayer'? and where is 'You're Welcome'?, and you left off 'Look', and yo my mom is a bitch because she won't give me money, and I'm a huge fan of the Miami Heat", and so on...

Well right now we're about to say fuck that mentality, and we're going straight after the list. All holds barred. I don't care if it's right, only that it sounds good. But can this happen following this list that no one seems to adhere to?

Well I like this list. I'm not saying it's "right", but I guarantee you I can make the best Smile mix you've ever likely heard based off of it. Let us move on..

I dig opening with "Worms", and I love the fuck out of ending with the "Old Master Painter" and that beautiful fade that it entails. More to that point, Smile '66 is what you've been craving.

I get Smile mix off of TAVCS. My neighbor cannot afford. Great success!!

Yes, you, mister "I've heard a bajillion Smile mixes in my life and what's one more?" Your cynicism is your downfall, and it's going to lead to an early, unfulfilled death.

No, seriously, you have to watch your blood pressure and cholesterol on the reg, and once you hit 40 then you have to submit to the ol' finger up the grand wazoo for your own best interests. It's part of being a grown up you see.

But you tell me. I'm not so cocky that I think I've reached into the mind of Brian Wilson; but I do think I've come closer than anyone has so far to nailing this bitch. Again, you tell me.

This bro loves his Smile mixes. You got something to say?

P.S.: "Surf's Up" will be lacking some vocals. "Worms" will not have some vocals and overdubs you might be expecting. "Heroes" is absolutely going to be different from any version you've ever heard before. The second side of this made up album will blow your mind.

That's because nothing in this mix was recorded in 1967 or later. This is the true Smile, the one that was destined to sell a million units... in January. Or maybe it totally sucks and I'm just shouting at windmills and passing cattle.

Anyway this will be upped to YouTube on Monday, so I wanted to give you people a sneak peak. Feel free to tell me your opinions, positive or otherwise.

P.P.S.: This is presented in two lossless FLAC files: side 'a' and side 'b'. Those expecting some sort of epic 80-minute suite will be disappointed. This is sticking to the tracklist, 30 minutes, in and out Smile that is trying to approximate what Brian himself would have released if pressed for the January '67 deadline.

Can you dig it?

Side 'A' Smile
Side 'B' Smile

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Neckbeard Nation: On the Slow Death of Music Journalism


Neckbeard Nation
On the slow death of music journalism.

"I am not an actual album doctor. I have practiced album medicine in this space previously, but I am not a licensed practitioner." - Stephen Hyden

"I try to be not like that/ but some people really suck." - 311

Just last night I ventured out to The Independent-- a divey music venue located in San Francisco's well-gentrified Western Addition-- to check out an up-and-coming young band by the name of Parquet Courts. The group has recently been the beneficiary of much online hype in anticipation of their upcoming CD release Sunbathing Animal, receiving high profile mentions on such venerable media outlets as NPR and Pitchfork Media. However in retrospect, it may have been a 3,800+ word puff piece posted over at by their music writer Steven Hyden that finally convinced me to brave the always hellacious Bay Bridge traffic and make the treck to go see Parquet Courts.

Hyden is a journalist that has been on my radar for a few years now-- mainly stemming from his short tenure over at the middlebrow pop culture site A.V. Club. It was during his brief stopover there that he seems to have made his bones largely off of a ten part series titled Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation?

Neither particularly informative nor entertaining, the series-- perhaps due to its very scope-- seems to have propelled Hyden to whatever the top tier of internet music criticism is considered to be these days. His writing has since appeared on Slate, Salon, Pitchfork, WaPo and as mentioned previously over at Grantland where he is now their main music reviewer. Practically speaking, Hyden's near-complete domination over the internet's most notable music review communities is impressive to say the least.

The question is why. Exhibiting neither the supreme analytical capabilities of Griel Marcus, the preternaturally varied prose of Nick Tosches, nor the cutting edge insight of Lester Bangs, not to mention the historical knowledge of the roots of modern day music possessed by any of the three, Hyden comes off as a third-rate scribe at best with a propensity alternately geared towards effusive, fawning praise directed at bands he happens to support (such as the aforementioned Parquet Courts) or weak, mean-spirited snark focused at those he dislikes.

A recent takedown piece he posted at over at Grantland targeting the long-running alternative band 311 lays bare many of the flagrant flaws in Hyden's writing style. Exhibiting little in the way of actual knowledge when it comes to the band or their history, he nevertheless proceeds to decimate the group for having the temerity to release a new album on an independent label. The criticisms are surface-level at best-- the type of schtick a precocious eighth grader might come up with, and about as funny. At the bottom of the column, a bearded Hyden grins mightily as if to express how exceptionally proud he is of this claptrap.

311. Nice guys; I've met 'em.

Then there is the regrettable "Album Doctor" column which is also featured over at Grantland. The conceit of this recurring bit is that the 30-something Hyden is somehow poised and qualified to issue advice to multi-millionaire rock stars such as U2, Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire and Weezer about how to better their careers.

This would of course be laughable, except for the larger issue at stake that this is what's actually right now passing for rock journalism at a high-profile (with high-brow pretentions) site such as Grantland. Sadly, Hyden's insights contained in this column if you want to call them that are no more compelling or provocative than the infamous 2006 Pitchfork review of Jet's Shine On which featured a video of a chimp drinking its own urine-- a metaphor perhaps better reserved for any of Stephen Hyden's attempted takedowns.

But what of his think pieces? Did not Hyden attain his internet overlord music reviewer status based on the strength of some sort of incredibly keen insight and perceptive analysis?

Well, in a word: no. His writing often comes off as both superficial and shallow, as well as generally lacking in nuance and at times critical distance. Witness the Parquet Courts piece I referenced at the beginning of this article. One can read the entire thing and take nothing away from it about the band themselves-- only that the author considers them to be (to pick just a few descriptive adjectives from a long list): "fantastic", "first-rate", "insightful", "fascinating" and "The Last Great New York Band?". The entire thing reads not so much as an article as it does a press release, or at least it would if it was more laconic or pithy instead of coming off as a long-winded diatribe.

Parquet Courts - The jury's still out, but they put on a fun show.

Now thinly-veiled advertising such as The Last Great New York Band? can nevertheless be effective, and as I admitted previously it likely did play a factor in getting me to check the band out last night. So were the Parquet Courts worth it?

Well overall I would say yes, I was satisfied with their performance. At times the energy they brought to the stage was palpable and made me think I was witnessing the birth of something that might be special. However there was also fifteen minutes of mid-set doldrums brought on by two droning, dragging numbers that just about stopped any audience enthusiasm dead in its tracks, before the group salvaged the show by ramping up the energy with a couple of tight punk tunes. By my estimation their set lasted about 45 minutes, and the group did not return for an encore.

So while offering a set that was by in large promising, The Parquet Courts also revealed themselves as to be not ready for prime time-- aka arena gigs of the type that artists such as U2, Weezer, Lady Gaga and 311 (the same ones Hyden clearly has no time for in his articles) can deliver on in spades-- which I consider myself qualified to say, having seen all of them in concert during various stages of their careers.

Yet while this piece might appear at first as a superficial takedown of Steven Hyden himself, I really only see the subject as representative of a larger segment of society, perhaps not great in number but one that is sufficiently ego-driven and narcissistic enough to believe that theirs is the only opinion about music that matters. Likely these are the same ones that eschew the proven songwriting ability, charisma and professionalism of acts that actually have made it in favor of still-comparatively untested bands who manage to fit a very narrow profile of what the reviewer considers acceptable for the rest of society to listen to.

In this cynical and anonymous society, the denizens of neckbeard nation have appointed themselves as the tastemakers, and predictably it seems that corporate media conglomerates are only too happy to buy into this paradigm. Sadly it seems somewhere along the way that insightful open-minded and intelligent writing got trampled over by me-too hipsterism and snark-for-snark's-sake.

However this current vacuum leaves a real opening for the return of great rock criticism. If just a handful of insightful, inspired individuals can get a minimal amount of traction going for them, the current generation of hack music journalists might just find themselves outmoded after all.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Brian Wilson - Visions: His Complete Outside Productions (2-CD)

Compilation (single artist)

Well, I said last time that we were going to be kicking things off with some new releases we've been working on slowly over the past couple of months, and I can't really think of anyone better to begin with than our all-time hero.

Although a couple of imports released during the past two decades have attempted to consolidate some of Brian's outside stuff into a complete set, neither could be considered anything close to comprehensive. Therefore, Visions is the only compilation available that presents the complete picture of Brian as studio auteur and mogul.

From his nascent 1962 explorations into writing and recording with Gary Usher, to the resplendent tracks he produced during his final reunion with The Honeys during the late seventies, it's all presented here in chronological order for your listening pleasure. Visions offers fascinating insight into Brian's unheralded parallel career as an independent record producer, as it showcases alternate paths he may have traveled further were it not for his dedication to The Beach Boys.

As always, every effort has been put forth by us here at the Sphere, both in terms of sound quality and attention to detail. This one is special to us, and we want this to be one compilation one you'll return to again and again. Also includes a bonus folder with over 100 period photos, including all the official 45 labels and more.

Okay, 1, 2... testing and... here we go!