Brian Wilson Presents Smile – A Retrospective

I have an odd history with this here record.

I did not grow up in a Beach Boys house. Hell, we were barely a Beatles house. CCR was the house band if there even was one.

Sure I heard the singles because we listened to the oldies station growing up. But none of that made me ever chase down the Beach Boys. It took till college and my attempt to tackle the RS 500. Back when that list first came out, streaming wasn’t a thing. I suppose I could have tried to Limewire my way through it, but that thought never occured to me. So, instead I would go through and when I had birthday money or christmas money, I would buy some CDs to cover it. Stuff I knew I had a pretty good chance of loving.

One of them was Pet Sounds. And I really dug that record. Anything that thickly produced, I would be about.

But, I kind of left it at that…didn’t dig further. Still don’t know why… I mean if I had to guess I was first getting into Black Sabbath and Talking Heads then and that probably ate up all the real estate, both mental and financial that I had.

So, I left it at that…

Years later, I am living in chicago. By then I had read more…to be honest, I flat out can’t remember why I bought this CD. I just remember seeing it at Reckless Records and picking it up. I did know a tiny bit of the mythos. That this was the project that made Brian Wilson spend a decade lying in bed. Flat out did not know the level of controversy, fan energy, and oddness around revisiting this project 30 years later.

I put the CD on and loved it from the start.

For me, it felt like a deserving sequel to Pet Sounds…I didn’t think it was as good, but at that time, it really clicked.

Brian Wilson Presents Smile entered my life in a weird time from a physical CD perspective (which is what I bought). Physical media was just starting its swan song, and everything was about iPod and what you could put on there.

This was in the time when you had a true 3.5mm Aux cable, and if you bought a bootleg car charger out of the cigarette lighter, maybe you could keep a charge on the iPod. I didn’t have one.

So I had CDs…my car at the time didn’t have the binders under the seat that my previous car did. But I kept a few CDs in my car in those years. This was one of them.

In fact, the actual jewel case was loose in my trunk for just about the entire time I lived in California.

This album faded from my life sometime around when I left california. To be honest, I kind of forgot about it.

Till recently…been getting really into the back catalogue of the Beach Boys. The glorious post-Pet Sounds albums of depression, loss, and the occasional sunshine.

Which for some reason led me back here…back to Brain Wilson’s revisit of the Smile project years later.

And that brings us to right now. Where I am giving this project another listen…and man it holds up.

Look, I know there is a ton of controversy here among the purists. The kind of people who want Lifehouse and nothing more or less. The kind of people who go on stage at a Weezer show and try to play Blast Off! because they think Songs from the Black Hole would have been Weezer’s finest hour.

That crowd should be fucking grateful they have something like Smile. I don’t think this project was ever meant to be a replacement to one of those Smile Sessions box sets. And yes, I have heard all those tracks.

What I think Brian Wilson was going for here is an attempt to show what a finished project might have been like had it existed. The kind of thing that was going on his head.

Is it perfect?…unfortunately no…

For as big of a spot as this project has in my heart, this thing has two flaws. One, Brian Wilson got old. Happens to all of us. Ill give the most glaring issue off the bat.

I have expressed my love for the eventual album this song was pieced together from, and the recording of this song on there is a masterpiece. Don’t get me wrong, this one is a fine version, but…you can feel some of the loss of range and expression. Its just…not as nice.

The other issue is it definitely suffers from mid-2000s production. Oh they do everything in their power to hide it. This thing is smothered in old school technique, instruments, vocal layers, etc. But…just around the edges you can tell…its too smooth. Doesn’t sound earthy enough.

Ok, so now that we got that out of the way. what this totally works as is a jam. The jam that was in his head all those years ago.

What I never get going through the pieces of a trainwreck was what the total vibe of the thing was going to be. What a completed project would feel like. And hell, i know there is STILL people who disagree with this project and the influence it has had on “Smile” purists everywhere.

To them I would (again) say, fuck you. You were given a gift here. Sure its 30 years late, but Brian Wilson gave it to you. Whether it would have sounded 100% like this back in 1967 is irrelevent. This is what he has of it now.

And you know what, its fuckin great man. I am impressed he put together a band that could actually do that kind of Beach Boys sound they had then. The kind of refined chaos they demonstrated on pet sounds…I really wish I would have seen them live, because I bet they could belt the shit out of some of those Pet Sounds track.

The albums shine is the consistency. He has a vibe here. It isn’t mellow or depressing but joyful. A version of a 1967 where he didn’t spend it in bed. It doesn’t get to the absolute purity the Beach Boys had but got damn if it isn’t the next best thing.

3.5/4 – This will be a 4/4 in my heart forever. But I’ll give it a 3.5 cause I just can’t quite get over the hump. Maybe I have to get older and it’ll stand with Surf’s Up to me… who knows. For now, here is where we are, and that isn’t a bad thing.

Keep the vibes positive…or at least try to. And thats Brian fucking Wilson of all people telling you that.

To All Trains – A Review

Prior to last week, I had never heard of Shellac.

I know Steve Albini of course. Definite winner of player hater of the year, the physical embodiment of when keepin it real goes wrong, the OG edgelord, and certified asshole.

Also, he is a fucking genius musician and producer…one of the foundational elements of the 90s indie sound.

I knew of only one of his bands. The infamous Big Black, primarily because Songs About Fucking shows up on a bunch of top post-punk or indie or some shit lists. So that was the album I heard…and thats it.

And that was years ago. I cant remember how I felt about it back then because I never bothered digging…I guess that was one of the big things about Steve. He appreciated people who were willing to go the extra mile to find great shit. Put in the work as the kids say.

Well cut to last friday. I am currently going through a fucking slog of terrible shit (more on that on a future post). And a motherfucker hipped me to the fact that prior to his untimely death, he had finally given up the ghost on having none of his shit on streaming. I guess they were so confident in the new material that they wanted people to hear it.

So, all of Big Black and Shellac’s albums went up…including, Shellac’s now final album.

I was hooked immediately.

This album entered my life right when it needed to. I blasted it three times that night fuckin drunk, and twice the next morning.

This thing is a masterpiece of brooding minimalist indie fuckin ass kicking.

To All Trains is a great example of how an album can be heavy as shit without being pure metal. How it can be dark without going full goth. We are in a special zone occupied by very few.

The albums contents is classic Steve Albini. The uncompromising asshole. The vision remains as clear in his 60s as it did in his 20s. Fuck you, you fucked up. Shouldn’t have cleaned up. Should have stayed in the grime and the filth. Cause at least that’s honest.

And I fucking love it. There are totally points on here to shout the lyrics. “IM THROUGH WITH MUSIC FROM DUDES” is most definitely one of them.

This album also goes to prove that you don’t need to go fully layered polyrhythm or multi-instrumental to make something fantastic. If you know where you want to go with it, you can keep it simple. Nothing on this album is like “hard” in the virtuosic sense, but what makes it incredible is how well the composition blends.

Bands…hell most artists cant do this. They cant find that interesting hook. That melody that will carry the song. Fuckin pazzuzu can’t. This band has all that in spades.

Perfect fucking album craft. Tight as fuck 28 min. All killer, no filler. Dont need fuckin 3 hours worth of horseshit. Just make 10 songs of ass kickers. This is how you fucking do it.

I cant imagine a better note to end on. Like people are already throwing Blackstar discourse on this thing, and I don’t think it deserves that.

It was clearly meant to be a latter-day Shellac album…and that is technically what it is. I think its the quality of the songs that take you there.

Oh and the album closer. Which, I still need to consume all the rest of albini’s work, but it may be my personal favorite thing he has ever done.

4/4 – This is the album of the year, and there is no way anyone beats it. This is some fuckin amazing shit. Blast it loud.

RIP King Asshole. May you be hitting up that big poker table down below and just fucking cleaning everyone dry.

Late Night With The Devil – A Review

Been waiting for this one for a while.

I have friends of mine that have been trying to get me hyped for the latest Marvel product, or some such thing. My reaction for a while as been “The only movie I am excited to see is Late Night with the Devil.”

Counting down the days for the shudder release, and we got there. I watched it that night.

And its pretty good. Its not masterpiece great (and we will get to that), but definitely a rock solid watch.

First, big shout out to our Australian directors, Colin & Cameron Cairnes. The most effective thing they brought to the table is the aesthetic. Clearly a fan of 70s television, the actual Night Owls show that our host is going through the paces on is flawless. Feels like that era of production. Right down to the camera moves and angles.

Second, the performances. Really across the board, but David Dastmalchian… got damn. Sidelined to a bit player in Chris Nolan’s stuff no more. Feels like he has always been hosting obscure 70s talk shows. Fantastic performance. Please give this man more work.

Also, HUGE shout out to Ingrid Torelli, who plays our Michelle Remembers/Exorcist, kid plagued by evil. Generally, when it comes to kids and their performances is, I find most of them to be weak. Like you don’t have the chops yet to really sell it…. This kid….ALSO needs more work. Holy shit I wasn’t ready for how good this kid is. Get her paid through some Annabelle type shit stat, so she can go on to have a huge career.

Apart from the aforementioned, the biggest success the film has is the set up and the first like 40 min of the actual episode. Most of the movie is this episode of Night Owls that aired that night. And all that stuff is fantastic. This has perfect pacing. I wanted to be longer, and was kind of surprised how fast it flew.

I will say I am not 100% sure on how much I buy the “backstage” footage, which most of it really just looks like shot on HD modern stuff and not from 77, but its so sparse that its fine. I really just wanted to luxuriate in this show.

Where the movie loses its grip is the last 30 min. Like I knew we were going to get some unhinged shit…its obviously coming the whole time.

My problem is what we actually descend into is cheap CG hell. Look I get it, Australian unknown directors scraping together money for a dream project. This fucking thing had like 9 production company intro cards. To the point where I thought it was part of the bit, it wasn’t.

I get all that. But you can do a lot for cheap. You don’t have to lean into really terrible CG. Also, the writing fails a bit there to.

You know what the ending is? Local58.

I’ve mentioned that youtube channel before. I am fan of analog horror, as long as it is done well. And what Local58 does works perfect for youtube.

Theatrical release movie? I expect more. And what we got in the last 15 min of this movie…is a Local58 ending.

Which I mean fine, but it really does cut the longevity of this movie down. This thing will be great for a few years but eventually that ending will prevent it from becoming a horror staple.

Overall, what we have here I think is totally enjoyable. If you happen to sub to Shudder at some point (or AMC+) a definite watch. But that ending is what prevents me from saying, you should go out and find it.

3/4 – A solid little horror movie, held back by an inability to execute its own ambition.

One last item before I go, this movie has a land acknowledgement after the directors, producers, and actors credit before the main body of the credits. I’m behind the times, and I had never even seen this before. I am not going to get into the efficacy of such a thing, but it did make me call a friend who knows about such things, and I suppose that’s a start.

© Church of the Holy Flava 2016 - 2021