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Albums of the Month: February 2014

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Album: Pet Sounds

Artist: The Beach Boys

Released: May 16th, 1966

Highlights: Wouldn’t it be Nice, God Only Knows, Sloop John B, Here Today

Much like The Beatles, their contemporaries from across the pond, The Beach Boys were able to achieve musical maturity when the group decided to halt the constant touring and focus on studio work. What started on 1965′s “Today” culminated on the complex and multi-layered “Pet Sounds”. Although the structure of the compositions retained the straightforward charm of the band’s early records, Brian Wilson, inspired by “Rubber Soul”, gave them a sophisticated treatment that added more value to the tunes. Instead of simply being a band that put together catchy songs with flooring harmonies, The Beach Boys turned a corner and became a group that pushed music to brand new grounds.

By using masterful production techniques to give each of the album’s songs a very distinct flavor, Wilson was able to further highlight the quality of the music the band composed. “Pet Sounds” is full of unique instruments on the many layers of its songs. Timpanis are as frequent as regular drums, horns permeate pretty much all of the album’s tracks, the harpsichord is seemingly everywhere, and orchestral instruments are very prominent. It is a record that reveals new treats with every listen, and, almost five decades after its release, its sound invariably amazes. It touched upon ground that had never been explored before, and it made The Beach Boys universally relevant.

Album: Dog Man Star

Artist: Suede

Released: October 10th, 1994

Highlights: We are the Pigs, The Wild Ones, The Asphalt World, Still Life

On their self-titled debut, Suede mixed the cabaret drama of glam rock with drug-infused decadence and noisy guitars. “Dog Man Star”, their second record and the group’s timeless masterpiece, was equally dramatic, but noise and aggressiveness were replaced by sweeping melodies and lush soundscapes. Where “Suede” was chemically-fueled anger, made even stronger by unshakable sorrow, “Dog Man Star” is the bottom-of-the-well hangover that follows, and in the midst of its grandeur are glaring cracks that reveal these songs are the product of a very disturbed and conflicted environment. Like many great classics that are its peers on the rock music pantheon, it is a record born out of hard times.

Still, in spite of its troubled aura, “Dog Man Star” is extremely accessible; a testament to Brett Anderson’s amazing ability to carve beautiful hooks out of Bernard Butler’s distorted guitar work. The album alternates between straight rockers with remarkable choruses – such as “We are the Pigs”, “Heroine”, “The Wild Ones”; more ambitious pieces, like the gorgeous and despair-ridden nine-minute “Asphalt World”; and ballads, that peak on the heavily orchestrated “Still Life”, the album’s closer and a song that would be right at home as the dramatic conclusion of a Broadway musical. “Dog Man Star” does not depict the progression of status its title implies, but it paints a vivid picture of how destructive the process of getting to the top can be.

Album: The Rolling Stones, Now!

Artist: The Rolling Stones

Released: February 13th, 1965

Highlights: Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, You Can’t Catch Me, Heart of Stone, Little Red Rooster

Out of all five records centered around covers of American songs that The Rolling Stones produced to start their career, “The Rolling Stones, Now!” is the best of the bunch. It does not have a sweeping hit like “Satisfaction”, which propelled its successor “Out of Our Heads”. However, it captures the band choosing great material to play, performing it skillfully, and throwing in some original Jagger/Richards compositions that provided glimpses into the hit-making machine the duo would become in a couple of years. It is not the major turning point on which the Stones became a major timeless force, but it was one of the most important steps of that journey.

“Heart of Stone” and “Off the Hook”, two of the original numbers, are amazingly catchy, and “What a Shame” proves the band was drinking heavily from their blues and R&B love and transforming it into new material. Jagger displays growth as a singer. He sounds defiant on Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” and downright miserable on “Pain in My Heart”. Meanwhile, Brian Jones shows his value as a contributor, and his endless potential as a multi-instrumentalist, as his slide guitar and harmonica respectively power “Little Red Rooster” and “What a Shame”. The album is a full band effort whose only low point is Jagger and Richards’ “Surprise, Surprise”, and even though the Stones were clearly still in need of finding a great producer, the songs here, thanks to the group’s performance, couldn’t be more exciting to listen to.

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