Sunday, February 19, 2012

Explorers Club - GRAND HOTEL - Review

HEAVENLY - Go there and tell them you like them!

In case you don't know yet, I love the Explorers Club. I am ecstatic about them. I saw them in Boston on Valentine's Day and I am going to post a lot of pictures from the show in this review. There are videos below.

When I first heard them I was sitting in a college dorm room when I came across the song "Don't Forget The Sun". My jaw hit the floor. I had wondered how they were able to accomplish such a feat. This was when I had just started my Beach Boys blog and was HEAD OVER HEELS in love with pop music. I knew that the greatest songs in the world were ones that you could hear only once and never forget. That immediately described the Explorers Club.

I still haven't forgotten Don't Forget The Sun and I still listen to their debut album "Freedom Wind" all the time. Some of my favorite songs ever are on that album. I also love their 6 song demo with the song Priscilla on it. That song still amazes me too. I have showed a lot of people this band and even though some people dismiss them for sounding too much like the Beach Boys, if you listen longer you can't deny that there is so much more going on.

The band's principle songwriter, Jason Brewer and the rest of the band draw inspiration from hundreds of classic acts including (but not limited to) Elvis Presley, The Jackson 5, The Temptations, The Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, Phil Spector, Led Zeppelin and The Zombies. The Explorers Club are not trying to sound like any one band in particular, but really, they are trying to re-popularize and revive an unforgettable sound that tragically has died off in the last 30 years.

The 1980s and 1990s brought about more and more artists and bands that did not form in a garage or in a basement, but rather in a record label Executive's office. They signed contracts to obey the strict commandments of the label and their goal was to make the most money possible. They could sing well, but they did not write, produce, mix, master, print or distribute any of their music. I'm referring to bands like the Backstreet Boys, New Kids On The Block, etc. However, the Explorers Club practice, perform, play and perfect their own sound. Hearing them makes me have faith that in the future, music could be free of fake performers.

The Explorers Club have had a very busy year. The 6 piece group from South Carolina have released 3 EPs, one full length album and toured the country. They have signed on to Rock Ridge Music (Reel Big Fish are on the same label) and have made friends with some of the best musicians in the world (Thank Yous on their album include Probyn Gregory, Andy Paley, Jeffrey Foskett and Brian Wilson). It has been 4 years since their last album came out and the wait for "GRAND HOTEL" has been more than worth it.

It's almost as though the Explorers Club have taken it upon themselves to create a record up to the standards of even the most discerning pop geek. It was mixed by Mark Linett (The guy who did the remastered version of Pet Sounds and also worked with Brian Wilson, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction and Randy Newman); the vocals are lush, multi-layered and pitch perfect; every song on the album is great; the bass guitar playing is excellent; there are tons of vocal harmonies; the flow of the album is emotional and finally you get to hear the deep voice of Wally, the band's bass player who sings on 3 of the album's best songs Run, Run, Run, It's No Use and Sweet Delights.

The first song on the album, Alcupulco Sunrise, truly sets the mood for the entire album. You begin by hearing the sound of waves crashing on a beach followed by gulls cawing above. When the music begins it becomes clear to the listener's mind that this music represents a tropical part of Mexico. Its incredible how this music is so associative of that location. The bass line in this song reminds me of work by Brian Wilson/Paul McCartney from the late 60s, especially the way the notes bounce so effortlessly up and down. It is a straight up kick-ass bass line. Flutes and wood blocks give way to a steel guitar then more waves and gulls end this piece.

The next song, "Run, Run, Run" is the single from this album and it is obvious why. The beginning of this song is rather anthemic and the vocals by bass player Wally are astounding, sounding great with the mix by Mark Linett. The real treasure of this song is the chorus and its backing vocals by all the members of the band singing "Run, Run, Run". It sounds fantastic and is undeniably catchy. Another highlight of this song is the female choir vocals during the third verse. The bridge of the song is musically very interesting and the bongos in the background of this song add a lot to the speed of this song (because the song is about running). Finally, the horns in the song and keyboard riffs toward the end are very nice. There is a lot going on in this song and it will remain a favorite of mine forever.

The third song on the album, "Anticipatin'" is another amazing song. It has a southern rock feel to it, but is TRULY catchy and original. The chorus of this song is addictive. The vocals are high-pitched and the melody is outstanding. The bridge of this song is exciting as well in the way that the volume drops slightly and the rhythm switches up. This is a solid song and the vocals by Jason are great. He has a way of emulating the voice of Elvis and this is one great example of that.

The fourth song on the album, "Bluebird" begins like a Cream song, but changes to a pleasant guitar jangler that sounds a bit like driving alone on a country road. The chorus however is completely pop and features an organ blasting the main chords backed up by harmony vocals singing "Aah's". DAVE sings this song and it is one of the band's prettiest vocals so far. Dave should sing lead more sounds like he was really into it. This song has an AM gold sound and I believe it would have went to #1 in 1976. I truly do.

The fifth song on the album, "Grand Hotel" begins with minor power chords! Oh no! But its okay- there are cheerful horns playing loudly in the mix over the minor chords, so it sounds a bit like a south of the border chase scene. There are no lyrics in this song, but the horns basically serve as the vocal line. It is a great song and the melody is hard to forget. The bass line in this song is particularly interesting as part of it is straight 4/4 notes, but other parts are adventurous riffs. I would like to hear the bass part isolated. There is also a nice guitar solo in this song and delightful organ work. This is an interlude to reaffirm the Mexican theme.

The sixth song, "Go For You" starts with a grand vocal harmony that bursts into a rock song sung by Jason. The song reveals itself as a masterpiece during the chorus where the entire band chants "Oh girl I can go for you, if you go for me, Oh woah oh! Honey now!". It is perfect pop. There is incredible horn playing throughout the song and a great bridge that sounds a bit like lounge music. There is also an amazing horn solo after the bridge that plays around with the chorus melody. Then the final chorus has the horns backing up the band singing the song with "Come on baby's!" shouted by Dave. I am telling you, this song is stupendous.

The seventh song on the album, "Any Little Way", is another quick little interlude. It sounds a bit like a 1970s news theme or some kind of television intro. The vocals are very sweet though and I think this song will always be a testament to the sound that the Explorers Club have when they blend their voices.

The eighth song on the album gets a lot more serious. "It's No Use" is a ballad sung by Wally and one of the highlights of the whole album. I have ALWAYS particularly loved the ballads by The Explorers Club, but this one is even better than "If You Go" and "Safe Distance" off of their first album. Wally sings so sincerely and the music is ultra motown and smooth. The sound of this track is reminiscent of records by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Green and The Temptations. I love this song.

The ninth song on the album, "Sweet Delights", is a perfect example of Wally's talents in the band. The bass line in this song is fantastic; it truly defines the song. Pianos and guitars strum the basic structure of the song while the bass guitar gives it life. There is an interesting whistling/horn solo in the middle of this song. The vocals on this song are outstanding and the little extras from bells and keyboards make this song stand out a lot.

The tenth song on the album "I've Been Waiting" is another great rock song. It features Beatles-esque "La La La La" backing vocals and the chorus of the song features E.L.O. style backing vocals that drop pitch and repeat words from the main vocal line. I love E.L.O. and this song really makes me feel like I am listening to Out Of The Blue or A New World Record. There is also a creative solo section of this song and a nice breakdown too. Jeff Lynne would be proud.

The eleventh song on the album "It's You" is another gorgeous ballad sung by Jason Brewer. It sounds like he is singing straight to his lady. I think the Explorers Club must enjoy black soul bands from the 60s, because this song sounds like the Sound of Philadelphia. This is a perfect, slow pop song that you can get your groove on to. There is beautiful slide guitar in this song and some gentle keyboard riffs that add to the rhythm of the song as well. The ending has Jason singing "Yes I am ready".

The twelfth song, "Alcapulco Sunset", repeats the beginning melody from the opening song but expectedly changes it up. There are gorgeous sounding vocals added over the music and dynamite vocal harmonies singing "There's nobody else for me, There's nobody else for you".

The thirteenth song on the album, "Summer Days, Summer Nights", is another tragically sublime ballad sung by Jason. The music on this song is different from "It's You", but the vocals are of a similar quality and subject matter. There are string sections in this song and much more backing vocals than "It's You". There is also a dramatic part where the music stops and Jason is singing powerfully without accompaniment before each chorus. The ending of this song is a bit like a jam and has unique solos on flute, keyboards, guitar, bass and percussion. It is very funky.

The fourteenth song on the album, "Weight of the World", could also be defined as a ballad, but it has much more of a flamenco influence. There are consistent shakers, scratchers, wood blocks and castanets in the rhythm of this song and the vocals are top notch. You can really hear Jason's voice reach its high point during bits of this song. It's very sweet and one of the most original ones on the album.

The fifteenth and final song on the album, "Open The Door", begins with a bit of Spanish guitar, but quickly turns to a solemn, Johnny Cash type of ballad. The guitar and drums are very low in the mix and Jason's voice is loud and right up front. When he yells "Open the door and let love in!" you hear a crack of thunder and the drums crash loudly. The chorus of this song is so dramatic. It is quite literally one of the most classic pop songs I have ever heard. The middle of the song has a tremendous horn and string section and the song concludes with the chorus repeating time and time again with various vocal and musical variations. The very ending of the album is stupendous and has all the members of the band humming louder and louder into an "A Day In The Life" type buildup and release. You feel very satisfied when it is done.

The entire album can be listened to from beginning to end without ever feeling the desire to skip a song. I would highly recommend this album to anyone. The Explorers Club have created a gem that will be remembered in the same category as some of the other great pop records including the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle, The Beatles' Revolver, The Beach Boys' Friends and Electric Light Orchestra's Out of the Blue. Timeless; classic. - Go there and tell them you like them! - Go here and buy there album!

You can also buy the album on Itunes for $6 or amazon or in a record store.



I saw The Explorers Club live in Boston, MA on Valentine's Day and they were nice enough to sign my copy of their new record! (See that photo above?)

I also took video. I apologize for the darkness of the videos.

Weight of the World (sung by Jason)

Run, Run, Run (sorry for cutting off beginning. Sung by Wally)

I'm A Man (originally by Spencer Davis. Paul sings this one)

(this is me talking to Jason, Dave and Paul backstage)

The show itself was an interesting experience. After driving 2 hours I almost didn't get into the club where the show was because they were sold out, but fortunately some people left so I was able to get in. I arrived with a melodica that I intended to give them as a gift.

Three groups were at the show and the entire place was pretty much elbow to elbow. I missed most of the first band's set because of the sold out debacle, but after their set I was able to meet the bass player for the second band, Oranjuly, who informed me where The Explorers Club were.

Behind a few doors I saw Jason and Dave in a small back room made out of cement with a couple of couches and guitars in it. I gave them my melodica as a gift and we talked for a while before watching Oranjuly's set. I have known about Oranjuly for a couple years and it was nice to meet/see them in person. They sang completely in pitch and sound just like their recordings. They also gave me their new album, which I will review later.

At the show I also met the Explorers Club's manager and Executive Producer of their new album, Marc Nathan, and we talked about the tour and the band. It was also Valentine's Day at the show, so plenty of the people there were couples on dates holding hands and cuddling. It was all very cute and the environment was very friendly and nice.

The Explorers Club were the final band to go on stage and they played a combination of old and new songs including Priscilla, Forever, Do You Love Me?, Last Kiss, Acapulco Sunrise, Run, Run, Run, Weight of the World, Anticipatin', Go For You, Any Little Way and Grand Hotel (the song). They also performed two covers, the first being Elenore by The Turtles the second being I'm A Man by Spencer Davis. It was nice to be front row center and to be able to sing along with them.

I was impressed at how good they are at their instruments. The band does all sorts of improvisations and jams in their songs. An exciting part of the show was during the song Priscilla when they suddenly switched to play "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" right in the middle of the song, before launching into a 5 minute long jam.

Another exciting moment was during the second cover song that night, I'm A Man, originally by Spencer Davis. The band's second guitar player, Dave, plays around with some amazing, psychedelic sounding foot pedals and the band's bongo player, Brian, falls over right in the middle of a bongo solo. There was a lot of energy and movement and all of the songs sound just like they do on the recordings.

At one point during the song Forever the band stops playing their instruments completely and sings the chorus of the song A Cappella. In one of the photos above Jason can be seen touching his ear, trying to stop himself from hearing the audience so he doesn't sing off key. It was all very exciting.

You can tell these guys practice and rehearse all the time and it was honor to get to see them in action. They are all around very talented. OH! Their "Grand Hotel" outfits looked very cool too.

After their set was over all of the members of the band signed my vinyl copy of Grand Hotel (which is now hanging on my wall), Jason gave me a hug and I got a couple T-shirts too. I also got a chance to talk to Wally, Paul, Dave and Kyle and I think they are all very nice guys. All in all, it was a great way to spend Valentine's Day!

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