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HAL2591

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This is a thread I made to discuss the album No Pier Pressure. It has been around eight months since it’s release, and I personally still think this is Brian’s best solo album. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how this album is fairing with you all! I also wrote up a quick bio on each song, culling from many different sources…just in case anyone wanted to know a bit more about the songs.

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Album released: April 7th, 2015

I don’t think Brian has ever had a more audacious solo release in his life. This album took on the electric beats of EDM, the smooth style of bossa nova, and the honest nature of country - Brian transformed those styles into something totally his own. Not only did he incorporate new genres, but for a couple songs he also hearkened back to the solemn and beautiful sounds he trademarked with his Pet Sounds album. Brian regrouped some of the finest musicians and singers the rock world has ever seen. He also brought together a lot of young talent that, combined with his genius, helped create some very special songs on No Pier Pressure.

1. This Beautiful Day.

Spirituality has always been a focal point for Brian’s music - whether the sentiment is direct or indirect, he has never been shy about incorporating that ethereal feel to his music. One of his most famous forays into the mystical realm is the song ‘Our Prayer’ recorded during the Smile sessions. He has always spoken openly about him and Carl praying for guidance during the Pet Sounds era. So it comes to no surprise that he started this album off with such an invocation.

Brian, talking with Billboard’s David Ritz, said that ‘This Beautiful Day’ is a prayer that opens the album: “I start out by praying that this beautiful day, with sunshine melodies and heavenly harmonies, lasts forever.”

I think this song has one of Brian’s best modern vocal leads on it. And when those harmonies kick in, they’re not only a foundation for that prayerful feel, but they also remind us that this is an album that could only be made by Brian Wilson himself.

2. Runaway Dancer.

Probably the most polarizing opening song on any Brian Wilson related album since Love You. And it is only polarizing because Brian is really stepping out of his creative shell for this one. EDM beats, a wall of synths, and Brian Wilson harmonies flourish throughout the song. Sebu Simonian from the band Capital Cities lights up the track with a great chorus vocal.

‘Runaway Dancer’ first came to being during the 1998 sessions with Joe Thomas. Apparently the released track isn’t much different from the demo track recorded in 1998. Listen closely to the released version and you’ll hear former Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin sing some harmonies in places.

Commenting on the song, Sebu talked about the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of the music: “This song Runaway Dancer is filled with curious chord progressions and jazzy major 7s, and momentary key changes. But at the end of the day it’s a simple song with a simple melody that just gets stuck in your head. So being able to do both at the same time in one song takes a lot of talent, and those are the songs that stand the test of time.”

3. Whatever Happened.

If any song from this album were to mirror the feel of Pet Sounds, this would be it. This song features the first glimpse at founding Beach Boys member Al Jardine on vocals for this album. It was one of two songs on this album written for the movie Love and Mercy.

I absolutely love the harmonies and the melody of the lead vocal. This is exactly what I’d expect a modern Pet Sounds song to sound like.

4. On The Island.

Zooey Deschanel. Successful actress, musician, and diehard fan of Brian Wilson. Zooey is no stranger to Brian, having interviewed him back in 2008 for the Myspace Artist on Artist series and she is also the daughter of Caleb Deschanel (who recorded the promo film for Good Vibrations in 1966).

Brian has a history of writing music inspired greatly by the bossa nova genre: ‘Busy Doin’ Nothin’’ is one of the centerpieces of The Beach Boy’s 1968 Friends album. Brian also forayed into this style during the recording of his Reimagines Gershwin album: ‘’s Wonderful’ is richly flavored with the bossa nova feel. Brian returned to this genre for his collaboration with Zooey.

'On The Island' features Zooey Deschanel on lead vocals. Her voice is probably familiar to Brian Wilson fans who have heard her popular live cover of ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’.

A running theme throughout the No Pier Pressure sessions is Brian’s insistence for perfection in the studio. Zooey Deschanel vividly recalls Brian directing her vocal session: “He’s very meticulous as well, like he won’t settle for anything less than totally perfect. Or totally exactly what he wants. And he’s very clear about whether he likes it or doesn’t like it. Which is actually really refreshing because it’s like ‘This is good, this is not good.’” Brian’s strive for perfection can be heard all throughout his career with The Beach Boys, that strive shows how genuinely driven he was to make an outstanding record with No Pier Pressure.

A wonderful lyrical music video was put together by Capitol Records for this song.



5. Half Moon Bay.

Brian has always had a soft spot for instrumentals. Let’s Go Trippin, Summer Means New Love, Boogie Woodie, Passing By, etc. Instrumentals are peppered throughout his Beach Boys and solo career. Probably his most famous and complex instrumental is track six on Pet Sounds: ‘Let’s Go Away For A While’.

Brian brought that similar laid back style to No Pier Pressure with ‘Half Moon Bay’. Mark Isham, known widely for his unique film compositions, filled this atmospheric track with a lush melodious layer of his signature trumpet sound.

6. Our Special Love.

Peter Hollens is one of the most gifted a cappella singers alive today. His talent has helped him ascend to the pinnacles of online stardom. His videos on youtube have, in total, 100 million views, and he gains subscribers and fans daily. ‘Our Special Love’ is an all a cappella song featuring Hollens’ trademark style.

Hollens talked about the track when it was released on his studio album (also titled Peter Hollens) in October: “Everything you hear on the track was created by just the human voice and mouth, and I think no matter what it's something awfully special (no pun intended).”

Another noticeable shared trait with the young talent on No Pier Pressure is the commonality that Brian Wilson is their musical hero. And judging by the music that they make, it’s not hard to pick up on that vibe. “I grew up in a house where music was constantly playing, and if it wasn't jazz or classical music, it was always Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. I look up to him more than anyone else, and he's one of the reasons not only myself, but members of my team got into music. I hold him in the utmost respect and esteem.”

The harmony sections at the beginning and ending of the song were written for a possible Beach Boys track (for an album following TWGMTR), but that was not to be. The harmony rich intro and outro became bookends for Hollens masterful a cappella. Listen deeply into this song and you’ll hear layers upon layers of talent from both Brian and Peter.

7. The Right Time.

The first single to be released for No Pier Pressure. And not a more perfect first single could have been released. Al Jardine knocks it out of the park with this lead vocal. Speaking with Disc Jockey Eddie Winters, Al described himself as a hired gun, one of the colors on the musical palette: “[Brian] usually gets the music organized and the tracks laid down with a group of pretty good musicians down there in LA. I’ll go down there when the tracks are down and we’ll go through the songs and see what fits.”

It seems that they found a perfect fit with ‘The Right Time'. David Marks, another founding member of the Beach Boys, plays guitar on the track as well.

8. Guess You Had To Be There.

This collaboration features country music star Kacey Musgraves. This is probably my favorite upbeat track from the album, and I’m still wondering why this was never made a single. Kacey spoke about what it was like to collaborate with Brian Wilson on this track: “‘I Guess You Had To Be There’ is interesting because it’s about [Brian’s] struggles with blowing up, becoming massively famous, not knowing who to trust around you, but also wanting the party to be around you too. And getting to talk to him about that, he was like “It was just crazy, this happened, and that, and this time period, and all these things, I mean I guess you had to be there.” So he gave me the idea for the song, I took it back to Nashville, and I wrote, I tried to just relate, and put my own kind of spin and feel on it. And it was cool that we’re years apart in age, lightyears apart in experience, but he appreciated the collaborative process, it wasn't just about what he wanted. He genuinely wanted me to throw in bits of me. And I thought that was cool, it takes a lot of artistic guts to let someone just run with this idea that you had.”

Though Kacey sings lead throughout most of the song, Brian is there with her, harmonizing and creating a beautiful Beach Boys-esque atmosphere. The rollicking nature of this track reminds me a lot of ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’.

9. Tell Me Why.

A very poignant song about heartbreak. On a bridge to the chorus, Brian sings one of the most heartfelt vocals on the album: “But now you're gone and I've gotta get on with my life”. Al Jardine sings the chorus, and he sounds just like he did back in the 1960s.

10. Sail Away.

A song that features three former Beach Boys. This song seems like a masterful homage to past nautical tunes recorded by Brian in the past, such as ‘Sloop John B’ and ‘Sail on Sailor’. Blondie Chaplin starts the track off with a powerful lead vocal, which switches right into a wall-of-sound chorus featuring Al Jardine. Synths, flutes, bass harmonica - a menagerie of instruments that all work perfectly together - fill this track from beginning to end.  

Blondie Chaplin, now a regular guest for Brian Wilson’s 2015 tour, said to Rolling Stone Magazine, “It’s a funny thing. All of a sudden, I get a call from Jeff Foskett. He's Brian's musical director. He said that Brian wanted to know if I wanted to come down and do some singing parts on his new album. This was totally out of the blue. Out of the blue! I hadn't been in a studio with Brian for 40 years. I said, "Sure!"

11. One Kind Of Love.

A song written with Scott Bennett for the movie Love and Mercy, it has already gained fame by winning Best Original Song at the Nashville Film Festival. It is also predicted to be in the running for Best Original Song at the Oscars.

Brian wrote the song with his wife Melinda in mind, and it features Brian’s best vocal of the album (and, in my opinion, has one of the best melodies he wrote in his solo career). A music video for the song was released around the time Love and Mercy hit theaters in America.

12. Saturday Night.

Nate Ruess (of the band fun.) was called by Brian Wilson to see if he was down for a collaboration. He told VH1’s Alexa Tietjen, “I would love to take credit for any sort of collaboration with Brian Wilson, but he was nice enough just to give me a call and ask if I would sing on his album. For me, that was crazy. I was like ‘This is an April fools joke. Brian Wilson’s not reaching out to me.’ They asked if I would go record this song that he had written at Ocean Way. Recording with Brian Wilson at Ocean Way, like that is as good as it possibly gets. Suddenly I found myself in a studio with Brian. I got in the booth, and he got behind the control board. I got like five lines into the song and he’s like ‘You’re flat.’. Started singing again, ‘You’re flat!”

Nate Ruess sang a hair raising lead vocal and Brian joins him in places throughout the song. They spent a lot of time in the studio layering harmonies: “I started really bringing it as much as I possibly could vocally. He was responding so well to my voice, like in a really special way, that he would on the spot just keep writing these harmonies and having me sing them. And at one point he even had me doing the “bom bom bom” which you’re like ‘Oh my god he wrote that for Mike Love at one point in life’, and now suddenly I’m the guy who’s doing that thing, I’m plugging my nose trying to sound like that. We just had a great time stacking vocals.”

Brian likened Nate’s voice to his late brother Carl’s. It must have been such a joy for both of these guys to work with one another on this song.

13. The Last Song.

Brian remarked how this album opens and closes with a prayer. The final prayer also ends on a positive note: “The final tune prays that if we hold on tight, it will all be all right — all the anxieties eased, all the fears erased. It ends in hope.” The chords were written by Joe Thomas, and Brian came up with the melody.

The original plan was for Lana Del Rey to sing on the song, but plans changed and Brian sang the lead for himself. Don Was (a record producer who plays bass on many No Pier Pressure tracks) talked about the Del Rey version of ‘The Last Song’ with radio.com’s Brian Ives: “It’s cool and I hope it comes out one day. It’s mixed, it’s done. But for a myriad of reasons, this version [without her] seems to be the way to end the record. And it’s really powerful.”

I really hope the Del Rey version see the light of day in the coming years. I can only imagine that her unique vocal sound helps perfectly capture the emotion of those lyrics.

In Conclusion.

I think Brian really wanted to capture that young sound of the Beach Boys again. He gathered huge talent from all spectrums of the recording industry. He brought back together three former members of The Beach Boys (Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin, and David Marks), and he wished so much that his brothers could’ve been a part of this album. In the liner notes Brian writes, “To my brothers Carl and Dennis, GOSH I wish you could have sung on this record with me. Your voices and spirit are always missed and I think about you every day.”

On the surface and deep inside these songs, you can hear how much Brian cared about this album. Each song is layered with Brian Wilson harmony and sound. Al remarked that he sees himself as a color on the musical palette for Brian Wilson to use. And it seems that Brian used so many colors for this canvas, and the end product is one of his most unique and beautiful solo records he recorded. Little and big moments sprinkled throughout each song remind us that Brian Wilson still has what it takes to make a phenomenal sounding album.

Write your thoughts below!

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kds

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Reply with quote  #2 
That's a very nice write up of the album.  

I just listened to it again just before seeing him in concert a couple weeks ago.  

I really think that this is a BW solo album that I'll continue to gravitate to for years to come.  

The only tracks that I just couldn't get into were Runaway Dancer (nice melody, but I can't take those EDM beats) and Guess You Had to Be There (I like the lyrics, but the country-pop vibe didn't work for me).  

I also really like the version with Don't Worry, Somewhere Quiet, and I'm Feeling Sad.  

I said this at the time the album was released, but the album also really benefits from having Al Jardine's lead vocals on it.  

I'd love for Brian to release a full album with Al someday.  
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HAL2591

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Reply with quote  #3 
'Somewhere Quiet' has some of my favorite vocals from the album - the melody when Al sings the chorus is perfect.

I'm really hoping if Brian goes through with his Rock n Roll album, that Al is a centerpiece to it - and when he's not singing lead I'd love to hear him sing some backing vocals. I'd also love for Blondie to be an integral part as well. In the concerts I went to this past year, Blondie on 'Wild Honey' blew everyone's mind. I would love to hear a similar power and energy on a Brian Wilson album.

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John B

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Reply with quote  #4 
I vote 'That Lucky Old Sun' as best.
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Debbie KL

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Reply with quote  #5 
HAL - What a perfect birthday gift for Dennis Wilson, and what a wonderful celebration of the "end of 2015" - an amazing gift of a year for any Brian Wilson fan - thanks so much.  You did such a coherent and cohesive work on not only what this record is to you, but included some reminder interviews and comments that bring all the happiness back from when this record reached us...a very happy Spring for me.  

Reflecting on NPP after having experienced Love & Mercy and that remarkable tour is really refreshing and enlightening.  One of my favorite things in life is that I've spent these long decades enjoying the adventurousness Brian continues to bring to his music.  

He could have made an album just of gorgeous harmonies with those amazing compositions, and most of us would have been happy.  But he stretched and did so many styles with some of the best singers around.  It was just joyous and fascinating to take it all in.  Brian doesn't always make us comfortable at first with his releases.  We have to grow into some of the less familiar genres he chooses - some of his new ideas, and with that, we grow as we heal, just as he'd want.

I'm with you.  I LOVE this record.

My thoughts are scattered about this record at the moment.  What comes off the top of my head, is how anytime Brian does Bossa Nova, I'm happy and I thought Zoe did such a spot-on job.  I really loved what Brian did with Kacey's stacked vocals, too.  He obviously has fun when he finds great singers.  Of course, the work with Al and Blondie is going to make any long-time fan feel great.  I honestly can't pick a favorite track, just like with Pet Sounds or Smile.  This record is the spiritual experience he intended.  

John B - Maybe you should launch a TLOS appreciation thread, since this one's about NPP?
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kds

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Reply with quote  #6 
John,

I agree that TLOS was Brian's best solo record from start to finish.  

But, I think NPP is a close second.  
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HAL2591

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Reply with quote  #7 

Thanks Debbie!

Quote:
He could have made an album just of gorgeous harmonies with those amazing compositions, and most of us would have been happy. But he stretched and did so many styles with some of the best singers around.


And what a dynamic! That's one thing I love about NPP: it combines so many different genres and styles, yet it all sounds cohesive. It all flows perfectly. For an album with dance, bossa nova, country, instrumental, and a cappella tracks, it's amazing how well it all pieces together.

Quote:
I really loved what Brian did with Kacey's stacked vocals, too.


I meant to mention this in my original post. I've read in a lot of interviews that a lot of time went into stacking the vocals for this album. Zooey talked about how Brian had her triple her vocals. Classic Brian.


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ray lawlor

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Reply with quote  #8 
Hal, this is a really good, interesting post. I really love the NPP record, it has great arrangements, great lead and background vocals and I personally love the production Its a really great audiophile record; I listen on a McIntosh amp and Dahlquist DQ-20 speakers and also in Audio Technica Studio Monitor headphones and it is a stellar sound. I also know how hard Brian worked on the vocals and the fact that he has two other Beach Boys singing on this record , as well as Matt Jardine, appeals to me. Glad you posted this ; it made me put the vinyl on tonight ! Oh yeah ; I really love the songs too !!!
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HAL2591

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Reply with quote  #9 
Thanks Ray!

It really is an audiophile record - there are so many little things you can pick up if you barely peel back the layers. I sometimes use my Sony Studio Monitor headphones, but most of the time my home stereo setup works perfectly for this album. The subwoofer really makes the bass pop in 'Saturday Night'.

What's your favorite song from the album?

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Brian's The Greatest

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Reply with quote  #10 
Totally agree, Ray. I listened to NPP today and still got goosebumps due to the harmonies, arrangements and Brian's amazing skill at fleshing out of his amazing melodies. Hal, wonderful review and yes, my favorite up tempo song is GYHTBT. I believe if someone heard that on the radio they'd stop whatever they're doing and listen. Too bad radio sucks today because if it was released in the 70's it would have received more enthusiasm from the jocks I used to know.
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ray lawlor

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Reply with quote  #11 
My favorite track is Whatever Happened, closely followed by Tell Me Why.
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guitarfool2002

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Reply with quote  #12 
Thank you to HAL for a very informative, interesting, and overall *great* post! That's how it's done.

I have to say I feel this is overdue in some ways to have a reevaluation of the album itself. After it's had months to settle in, maybe people played it when it came out back in April, read some of the asinine reviews and reviewers who you could tell probably didn't bother to listen to it as a complete, flowing and cohesive work, and some may have gotten turned off by that.

Read HAL's post, read some of the reviews here from the past that actually went deep enough into the record to judge it fairly, and of course have the album playing as you're reading. It's worth the hour or so to take a listen with fresh ears.

I've mentioned many times as well, this is truly a gorgeous sounding album. I'd call it an audiophile album, best heard with the highest quality speakers or headphones you have available, and if possible, studio-quality headphones with a flat response. The details are stunning.

And THANKS again to HAL for getting into the background of some of these tracks, and providing interview clips as well from some of the guest artists. I had not seen nor heard some of these before, and it was great to get their take on the making of the album with Brian "from the front lines" of the studio sessions.

Great, great stuff here. Kudos, props, and cheers!

With the holiday season upon us, I'd also suggest for the open-minded music fans on your list, consider dropping a copy of No Pier Pressure under the tree. If even one song connects and puts a smile on their face, as we're pretty sure it will, it would be a great gift. [smile]

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guitarfool2002

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Reply with quote  #13 
My favorite is and has been Guess You Had To Be There. Nothing beats a classic BW shuffle. And hearing that feel which many associate with the 60's, brings the song full-circle into 2015 when you add the lyrical messages. I'd play that on repeat for hours and not get tired of it. Kacey and Brian trading lead vocals...yes.
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ray lawlor

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Reply with quote  #14 
I wanted to say that I love the dynamics in Tell Me Why where the song shifts gears from Brian's mellow verse lead to Al's wailing on the chorus, as well as Matt's falsetto. That's what I want to hear ! Great listening to this record again
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HAL2591

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Reply with quote  #15 
@Guitarfool, thanks for the kind words! GYHTBT is a revelation on headphones. Not sure what echo-chamber was used for Kacey's vocals, but you sure can hear that beautiful effect clearly through the phones.

Also, good call on this being a great Christmas gift. Definitely a copy or two going in my Amazon shopping cart.

@Ray Lawlor. That's one of my favorite parts of the album (Tell Me Why), that transition, and the perfection of the vocals during the chorus.

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