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guitarfool2002

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Reply with quote  #1 
I wrote this the week the album was released, and wanted to share it on this forum for those interested. I tried to focus as much on the music, sounds, and instrumentation alongside the lyrical and overall content. I've been enjoying the album on a purely musical and sonic level and hope that comes out in the piece. It's a terrific album that sounds incredible. [smile]



I. The Introduction

In 1964 Brian Wilson wrote and sang a song where the question was asked "When I grow up to be a man, what will I be?", followed by the phrase "won't last forever", heard as both a reminder and as a lamentation. For a musician in his early 20's to be pondering such topics after becoming famous worldwide for writing and singing about the joys of surfing, hot rods, the beach, and escapism in general, it could have been jarring to hear such a forward-thinking personal narration asking a question which never truly does have an answer. What will tomorrow bring? What will my life be in five years? Perhaps the future is the ultimate of all the great unknowns we all face, and perhaps the biggest mystery of life in general.

In 2015 we have a unique opportunity through music to hear that same young man who was wondering what he would be and what the future would hold having indeed grown up, having survived, and having beaten what could have been nearly impossible odds betting against him once again expressing his thoughts and feelings through his original music. Fifty years later, we as listeners and as fans can listen as that young man looks back on his life, looks at the present, and once again ponders the future.

No Pier Pressure is perhaps the most honest, the most forthright, and "real" album Brian Wilson has made so far. Once an artist reaches a certain level of success and popularity, that artist can begin to feel trapped into expectations from many sources who both want and expect something specific in terms of sound, style, attitude, whatever may be the case. In terms of those expectations, No Pier Pressure finds a way to both embrace, celebrate, and also cast off the burdens of the past. The sense of making a record on his own terms, and doing and saying what he wants to say through the words and the music permeates each and every song of this album. The music has many nods to his past work, in some cases sonic trademarks which have entered the public consciousness and which shall never cease sounding "fresh" to listeners. Yet it also encapsulates many of the sounds and styles which have dotted the popular music landscape in the fifty odd years since Brian first began recording music. The temptation would be present to simply revisit and rehash previous glories and triumphs, basically do a frame-by-frame remake of a classic black-and-white film using digital color stock...it's still the same film, only in color.

No Pier Pressure instead chooses to both acknowledge the past, while inviting the present (and the future) into the proceedings. There are deliberate references to legendary past hits, there are guest artists representing the current generation of musicians and hit makers, and all the while you never lose the sense that this is a Brian Wilson album, made with great effort and attention to detail with the kind of sonic quirkiness and surprise transitions that has become one of Brian's musical calling-cards.

You know it when you hear it. The Real Deal, the Real McCoy...From fans, musicians, fellow producers, artists: For decades there have been attempts to get a closer look into what is behind this music, what goes into these creations, this gloriously unique and sometimes bafflingly simple yet complex patchwork of chords, melodies, and arrangements that identify a Brian Wilson production sometimes through a single harmony vocal stack or a simple phrase or chord progression that literally jumps out of the speakers.

II. The Experience

In the early 1960's the music of Brian Wilson tapped into a certain mindset, a lifestyle if you will that his generation specifically had begun to explore and exploit in equal measure due to the cultural and technological developments which had affected that era. The music celebrated what some would later call the "California Myth", with all of its trappings. The sheer joy of being young and experiencing the warmth of the sun, the ocean, the beach, surf, romance, cars, as crystallized into popular songs lasting under three minutes to serve as both the soundtrack and the clarion call. The notion of freedom was the undercurrent, specifically the freedom to simply jump into your car, turn on the radio, and drive to wherever you wanted to go, be it the beach or a party or even the burger stand to grab a bite. It was all there, waiting and for the taking. If you couldn't make it there physically, listen to this music, close your eyes, and prepare to escape into that fantasy for a few minutes of your day.

Throughout Brian Wilson's experiences as a young man and into adulthood, he has written often about the near-mythical power of the radio, more as a symbolic notion than the actual radio itself. From the "radio blastin'" in "Fun Fun Fun", to the "Magic Transistor Radio", to the title track of the 2012 Beach Boys' comeback album "That's Why God Made The Radio", Brian's music has celebrated the power of feeling that magical long-distance connection as we tune into a broadcast and experience the power of music. Pure escapism, pure joy and anonymous connection to music via capturing radio waves on an electronic device that is a shared experience. Combine that with the other symbolism, that of the freedom provided by the ability to get into your car and drive anywhere or nowhere in equal measure, and listening to music on your car radio as you're driving along on a perfect day sets up what can be an idyllic experience, something to enjoy and celebrate not knowing exactly what we'll hear next on the radio nor what the trip will bring.

When the details of No Pier Pressure were released, it was at first difficult to figure out how a collection of songs from such a diverse group of guest artists and musicians, not to mention the thematic differences suggested by the song titles, might gel as a cohesive, connected album with a specific flow from track to track. Originally it felt like it could be a collection of singles, owing to the nature of the music business via digital downloads that exists in the present day.

Yet when I experienced the album as a whole, heard start to finish, something clicked, and for me at least I was able to perceive this collection of songs as a singular, connected listening experience.

It is the perhaps uniquely culturally American notion that I refer to as "driving meditation", where you escape reality in a sense by getting into your car, turning up the radio, and driving to somewhere or nowhere as you're alone with your thoughts and the music providing the soundtrack. All of the scenery passing by, the sound of the radio, the near-meditative state you can achieve that puts you sometimes alone with your thoughts...it's a similar notion to what Brian sang those fifty years ago as "there's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to...", but rather than in my room it happens on the road.

Picture Brian Wilson as the narrator of this new album driving around the Los Angeles area on any given day or night. The radio is on, and he's changing stations at various times during the drive, while at the same time thinking about the past, the present, and the future. As much as the past is a constant presence, a station might be playing one of the old familiar hits like "Sloop John B", or something from Pet Sounds. Another station which features modern rock might be playing a song by Capital Cities or "fun.". Change to the country station, you might hear a Kacey Musgraves single. Check the jazz station, Mark Isham is heard playing trumpet. Find a local NPR or college station, they're doing an Exotica show spinning Jobim's music.

All the while the driver is listening, he's remembering and pondering and reminiscing and wondering what tomorrow or next year will bring. Happy, sad, melancholy, joyful, even wanting to escape on a vacation...it's all coming out. The soundtrack to all of these thoughts and imaginations is the music coming from that car radio, and that music happens to be representing your own past, present, and future as you change from station to station.

No Pier Pressure to me sounds like the musical depiction of such an experience, a collection of songs that separately exist quite well within their own perspectives but when taken together as a continuous whole exist as the soundtrack to someone taking stock of where they were, where they are, and where they may be going in life, set to music. It's free of expectations, it's as random as what you might hear by chance as you scan through the radio dial or see as you watch everyday life go past through your car's windows, yet it's as focused and as specific as those random yet sometimes deeply powerful thoughts coming to you at various points during the drive.

Grab the keys and hop in. We're going for a drive. Make sure the radio is blastin'.

III. The Music And Mix.

This album sounds amazing. As full and as complex as many of the arrangements and instrumentations are throughout the album, every sound and instrument has its place in the mix. From deep bass to delicate woodwinds, from airy acoustic guitar to overdriven electric guitar, from the high end sizzle of a cymbal to the resonance of a floor tom, from the classic sounds of a Hammond organ to the purity of a grand piano, all supporting and complimenting layered vocals, each of the parts exist in the soundscape to where nothing gets lost or jumbled together. There is a great feeling of space and openness in the mix, leaving room for the arrangements to breathe while remaining full. Nothing feels crowded out, and the key elements of each song and each section of these songs has the room to cut through the mix for maximum sonic and emotional impact. The full frequency spectrum of each track's instrumental and vocal ensemble is well represented. The separation feels like it is exactly right to create a beautiful sonic sheen that sounds consistent from track to track, despite the variety of genres and styles represented. It sounds cohesive.

Much credit, then, goes to engineer Wesley Sideman who recorded the album at Ocean Way, to Brian's collaborator, co-writer and co-producer Joe Thomas, and to the mastering done by Bob Clearmountain. The production and arrangements needed sensitive and receptive ears in order to deliver that level of sonic consistency, and those charged with that task delivered magnificently.

Consider that the overwhelming majority of instruments you hear on this album are in fact real, live instruments including the strings, horns, various keyboard instruments such as Hammond organ, grand piano, etc. It is very much from the old-school recording methods, where real instruments played by real musicians were captured by live microphones set up in specific ways to best suit the needs of the song. There is not the overwhelming use of synthesized and sampled sounds replacing acoustic instruments, except in the case of a production such as Runaway Dancer where the sound of the synths and sequencing is a key component of the song. The sound of the album and especially certain individual tracks and passages make great use of the natural sounds of the instruments, the skill of the players, and the expertise of those involved in recording and mixing the songs. I consider this an audiophile quality recording, deep and rich in texture and overall sound.

Overall sonic highlights for me were individual to specific instruments. The drums specifically had a deep resonance and separation that often gets lost in modern recordings. Sounds as seemingly minor as the resonance after a low tom is struck are given great care in these mixes. You don't hear only the stick hitting the drum, but you hear the sound resonating inside the drum itself at various points during the album. The unique touch and feel that drummers like Jim Keltner and Kenny Aronoff bring to a track has been captured perfectly on this album. It's as much about the tonal quality of the drums and how the player uses them as it is the groove or beat being played. It's similar to those tracks from the 1960's where a single snare or tom hit could speak louder than a full-kit drum fill.

The vocal blend: Brian Wilson knows vocals. Perhaps instinctively as well as any producer in the past fifty years, the man knows how to arrange and record vocals. The vocals, both lead and group, on this album are exceptional. We almost expect the wall-of-sound harmonies as a calling card of a Brian Wilson production, but in the tracks where there are guest vocalists there is also a sense of capturing and using to full potential the individual vocal personalities of those singers. There is never a sense of an out-of-place vocalist, or a singer who doesn't fit into the blend and likewise into the lyrics of the song itself. There are some strong and distinct vocal personalities on this album, and each one has received the respectful and appropriate space to do their thing.

The electric bass sounds throughout are superb. Recorded with enough body and depth sonically, as well as having plenty of room in the mix to either thump or pluck or walk as needed, the bass parts especially on the up-tempo tracks drive the groove of the song. And there is enough of a nod to the classic muted/picked bass sounds that Brian's previous productions were known for dating back to the sixties, and each part on the album is pulled off with great aplomb and respect for the song.

Guitars and string instruments: I got a very "Pet Sounds"-like impression from the guitars, as they feel very deliberately arranged and placed within the mix to both support and highlight when needed. The acoustic rhythm guitars provide the foundation, and the electrics vary from distorted lead lines, to scratch-funk electric, to those unique counter-melodies and call-and-response phrases that were the hallmark of the 60's productions. The nylon string arpeggios and accompaniment throughout are sensitive and impeccably played. There was a very peculiar way Brian would arrange multiple guitars dating back to when he began using larger studio ensembles around 1964-65, where he'd exploit the sounds of different types of guitars to combine and create new blends, as well as writing specific "lines" for guitar that were more akin to arranging a horn section in a big band. And yet, each guitar could be heard in those blends, even in the mono mixes of the past. With this new album, they found a way to put a modern twist on those arranging quirks, and with the separation afforded by a stereo mix, one could spend a few listening sessions just focusing on the interwoven multiple guitar tracks as they flow in and out of the melodies and backgrounds. Guitar arranging, Brian Wilson, this album...you hear it. This is the Real McCoy. And it's fantastic.

Overall this is an album that will sound great through any source, from earbuds to studio-quality monitoring headphones to both low and high end speaker systems. I'd highly recommend listening if possible on quality headphones that deliver the most full frequency response without much coloration or boost, and definitely through a higher-end amplifier and speaker setup to capture all of the details. There is a lot of sonic "ear candy" to be heard in even the most minute detail, from the way certain reverbs trail off to the resonance of the drums as mentioned before, and the texture overall that has been created through the arranging, recording, mixing, and mastering of No Pier Pressure is of audiophile quality to these ears.

IV. The Songs.

Perhaps try placing yourself in that hypothetical drive around Los Angeles with the radio blasting as you listen from song to song as the album unfolds to imagine the meditative travelogue scenario as all the memories and thoughts start coming in strong. Or simply pick and choose at random a song to play. Whatever the experience, whatever the preferred method, the album is comprised of nods to the past, acknowledgement of the present, and an eye to the future both musically and thematically. It exists on several layers and can be (or should be) experienced on its own terms, as I believe it was created.

1. This Beautiful Day
With the opening of Pet Sounds coming via the ethereal dual-guitar introduction to "Wouldn't It Be Nice", it seemed that Brian Wilson was setting up a template that he would use and revisit on his more personal musical works. The introduction which both establishes and sets up the mood and the theme of what the listener will be hearing throughout the album experience is set up via a short musical passage, a shorter song than the average album track. It flourished with "Our Prayer" and Smile, "Meant For You" and Friends, not so much full tracks but instead convocations to invite us into the show.

With the simplest of piano and voice openings, Brian lays out the feelings of this album. He relates emotions to music via a favorite song, he expresses joy for the present while also hinting at a troubled hope for the future and hoping the good feelings can be held onto looking forward as life moves on. Can we capture what we love and celebrate about this present moment, both savor it and save it, and even protect it as life goes on around us? The piano and voice are joined by muted trumpet and a mournful cello line, to be joined by Brian's stacked vocal harmonies, with rich chords suggesting the settled yet unknown feeling of the present, culminating in a wordless, sustained suspended chord that wants to resolve...and it does resolve into an unexpected bright sounding major chord that harkens back to the final wordless harmonies of "Our Prayer", the major-sounding resolution after the tension that led up to that point. A beautiful church-like sustained organ chord and the vocal harmonies swirl together only to be complimented by a Debussy-like repeated five-note motif dancing out into a fade. Tension and resolution, reflection and longing, worrying and celebrating...He sets up what is to soon follow.

2. Runaway Dancer (featuring Sebu from Capital Cities)
The imaginary driver of the imaginary car has switched to the contemporary hits station on the imaginary car radio, and the DJ is spinning Runaway Dancer as we drive down Hollywood Boulevard or La Cienega or any number of streets.

Inspired by Brian's daughter being a fan of Capital Cities (whose trademark hit 'Safe And Sound' had a bit of a Brian-like surprise element in its arrangement by featuring a solo trumpet hook calling out over an electronica-dance soundscape), Brian invited Sebu Simonian to work on a track which had existed as a demo called "Talk Of The Town". Sebu brought some of his Capital Cities trademark sounds and grooves into the process, they shifted the hook into "Runaway Dancer", and added the percolating synth beds and sequences that Capital Cities is known for to create this track.

Starting the track with a combination of sax, finger snaps, and a brass section pad, and Mini-Moog like analog bass textures, it soon hits some of those trademark unusual chord transitions where you know it's a Brian song at heart. The four-on-the-floor kick drum groove enters, dance and club ready, and it sounds for all the world like they resurrected that quirky analog synth sound that was the trademark of "Wonderful Christmastime" among others...in a music scene where a nod to 1980's synth textures has become commonplace, to pick that of all sounds is actually refreshing to hear in a new context. Those who love those sounds will get the reference.

What makes the track work is the insistent beat and the way the instrumental textures which support that beat are very much in tune with the type of music Capital Cities places on the charts, yet the chords and melody are pure Brian Wilson, as we'd expect. And there are some neat drop-outs and breaks that hang on some of the more unusual chords of the song rather than the obvious "expected" chords, to keep things interesting harmonically. The song works. It grooves, and the mix, especially the bass and how it both thumps and pumps, sounds great. Radio friendly.

3. Whatever Happened
One of the "Real McCoy" tracks on the album, meaning the kind of sounds and textures you hear and know instantly that it's Brian Wilson because no one else does it like this. Instantly unique and identifiable. Sensitive acoustic guitars strumming sparse and specific rhythms of minor 7th chords, answered by some tremolo-effected electric guitar chord accents, the lead vocal, the harmony stacks...

...but that BASS enters with a descending line, complete with pick, muting, and glorious slap echo and reverb. There it is, the real deal, that sound. Factor in some terrific vocals, that bass playing even longer transitional phrases, the ageless voice of Al Jardine cutting through the blend, clave and tambourine adding to a percussion bed...

This is a natural updating and extension of that classic Today/Summer Days production sound, with all the trimmings and trademarks enhanced by newer technologies and more modern guitar techniques that were not used originally. The guy who asked what will he be when he grows up is now hearing a song like "Please Let Me Wonder" or any other cut from 1965 on the imaginary radio and taking those sounds and techniques into the present. never forgetting the past, mind you.

And the lyrics? Again, the theme running through the album which was established in the introduction.

4. On The Island (featuring Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward)
There exists a sub-culture of sorts that brings together people who are into music, design, and culture from a specific era in American history. Call it Kitsch as it used to be known, call it Retro Hip as some call it now, label it Lounge, Exotica, Cocktail, Swank...whatever the terms may be to label it. You'll see these people in vintage shops, second hand stores, estate sales, flea markets, etc. searching for clothes, records, furniture, lamps, pictures, whatever the case from that era. They often wear the styles from that time, have their hair styled from that time period, and have their homes decorated from that period of design.

On the hi-fi, you'll probably hear records from Arthur Lyman, Esquivel, Astrud Gilberto, Les Baxter, any number of those artists with their album covers featuring exotic or retro-kitschy imagery. Space age, exotic, all of that stuff. They spent years looking through dusty old boxes of albums from someone's parents' collection that was considered by many to be easy listening or worse, but which sounds very pleasing and inviting to many ears tuned into that style. They may even find a little club in a city somewhere that has a DJ spinning this music, complete with cocktails flowing and all other trappings of the scene.

Included in that scene are those like Zooey Deschanel who embrace the look and the sounds in the modern day. The influence is obvious for those who know what it's all about, visually and musically.

Included as well are musicians like Brian Wilson who used some of the same off-the-wall instrumental combinations and percussion sounds from those late-50's and early-60's Space Age records in his own productions. Included in those was also a love for the Bossa Nova sound, whose main architect was Jobim and whose songs those artists like Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz, and even Frank Sinatra adapted into their repertoire.

Brian knew and liked Bossa Nova, in fact he could write a mean Bossa Nova dating back to the 1960's. On The Island is a mean Bossa Nova. Authentic in sound and structure, and lending a definite nod of inspiration to the previous Bossa artists like Astrud Gilberto in Zooey's lead vocal.

This is supposed to be a tribute to those sounds, a nod of appreciation to both the original artists who wrote the book on Bossa Nova as well as the future generations of fans who kept it alive in all of the various Retro and Vintage and Exotica revivals. Fun, authentic, and a nod to the theme of escapism as heard in Brian's music since the earliest songs.

5. Half Moon Bay
The first thirty seconds of this album feature probably the most direct acknowledgement of music from Smile in the way a variety of instruments including electric piano, cymbals and woodblock percussion, bass (minus the echo effect this time) woodwinds and strings combine to resolve on a "happy" 7th chord harmony.

This blend morphs into a lone electric guitar, and an instrumental texture and arrangement that is yet another modern updating of a classic Wilson sonic trademark, in this case the instrumental "Let's Go Away For Awhile". You hear some neat, subtle references to that track in the mix, in one case a tape-echo laden hit that repeats in a way similar to the classic sounds from Western #3's board and Chuck Britz.

Mark Isham's trumpet carries the melody over top of the vocal stacks, and both stand out as the lead voices. The trumpet is very intimately recorded, to where the breath sounds are audible, and it adds more sensitivity to the track.

Another instrumental interlude that exists as a standalone track, harkening back to the past but updating it to the present. A very soothing track, expertly played and recorded.

6. Our Special Love (featuring Peter Hollens)
Noted a capella vocal artist Peter Hollens is featured prominently on this song. This track could exist on its own as a piano and solo vocal, but the harmonies and intricate vocal arrangement both trademark and define this recording and thus the song itself. That's what you'd expect from a Brian Wilson vocal arrangement, that's what Brian heard in Peter's vocal work in return, and thus we have this track.

Interesting to note, this recording is comprised solely of voices. What sounds like electronic drums and bass are all vocals. It is also refreshing to hear Brian singing in this high of a vocal register and with that tonal quality in his voice. Not just refreshing, but also an emotional return and welcome back to an old friend many of us listeners grew up with and are happy to greet again. With a warm hug and an invitation to stay a little longer, because we missed you and we love you.

7. The Right Time
Al Jardine has discovered the vocal fountain of youth. Or something. He also has in this song a perfect vehicle to showcase his fastball of a vocal range, that powerful "Help Me Rhonda" middle range vocal belt that delivers a monster of a hook, practically mixes itself live or in studio, and cuts right through the speakers.

This song has a massive hook in the chorus that you might find yourself singing at random times during the day. It's that catchy. Solid drumming as usual, great Hammond sounds, guitars arranged to compliment and contrast the melodies in classic Pet Sounds arranging fashion...and what is a rare treat, a booming bass vocal with a killer melodic sensibility delivered by Brian himself. The vocal break, with Brian's bass countered by the falsetto vocal, replaces an instrumental solo in the great tradition of the arranger's chorus from the big band era.

Lyrical theme about loss, introspection, attempted reconciliation, and a hope for a positive outcome in the future, even if that exists solely in your mind as you drive along thinking about how nice it would be to capture those feelings again, if at all possible. Or sometimes the desire to do something is a better feeling than the reality of actually pursuing it. So you dream.

Well played.

8. Guess You Had To Be There (featuring Kacey Musgraves)
This is possibly my favorite song on the album. This is a hit record, this is a radio song. Catchy, infectious, energetic, and filled with hooks. Combine a very talented country singer with Brian Wilson singing in a full-throated, confident voice on a terrific melody that ebbs and flows and sustains just the right notes...

If I could influence such things, I'd make this a single. Get it to the radio stations, country and contemporary, and get this on the air. If I could also influence the tastes of the modern record buying public at large, this would be a hit, airplay and downloads and everything in between. In the old lingo, an out-of-the-box smash hit. Have Brian and Kacey do the usual rounds of television appearances and get those studio audiences clapping along on beats 2 and 4 and moving their heads, tapping their feet to that shuffle beat.

In can happen. It should happen.

This is joyous, celebratory, uplifting music with an infectious beat and spot-on performances in every aspect from the backing band to the vocals. And that guitar solo - That sounds like something from a classic Steely Dan session. Commercial, yet very technically proficient and challenging, with neat turns of the phrase that straddle the line between rock, jazz, and country. Great lead tone. It sounds like something a studio pro like Dean Parks would rattle off in one take as Becker and Fagen sat there and feigned their cool detachment routine while hiding the fact that this guy was blowing them away as he played that solo.

Yet the lyrics tell a much darker and less optimistic tale. The music, that infectious beat and catchy melody, is the elixir for someone telling an emotionally rough story. The negativity of the tale being told is soothed by dressing it up with such a joyful, clap along song. Shades of Ticket To Ride, where the hit record sensibility masked the fact that the singer was upset that his girl is leaving him. Millions sang and clapped and bopped along to a hit single that was one of the sadder tales to be told.

Music is healing. A good, joyful sounding song can cure many ills. You can be made to smile while relating a sad tale.

9. Don't Worry
This is a very interesting production that recalls a specific mid-70's pop radio vibe, complete with scratch-funk guitar, strong brass section, horn flourishes and pops, and string lines playing both sustained chords and upwardly melodic flourishes. I seriously thought at times this track was going for the Philly Soul aura, the arrangements of Thom Bell and the songs and productions of Gamble and Huff. All the hallmarks of that sound and style are present, especially in the string arrangement and brass/guitar combinations, yet the chord changes and modulations stamp this as a Brian Wilson song.

Very, very interesting actually. If you had a group like The O'Jays or The Delfonics doing this one, with that original Philly house band backing them, it would be Philly Soul. This is Brian putting his own stamp on Philly Soul. I like this, and again a lyric consistent with the album where the singer is giving a pep talk after experiencing some rough times.

Some nice 60's sound references too, from the Good Vibrations/The Rain The Park and Other Things staccato organ chords, to the melodic nod to Brian's own "Don't Worry Baby" in those first two syllables.

10. Somewhere Quiet
If you're driving alone, listen to this one preferably late at night as you can park that imaginary car somewhere, shut off the engine, and let the radio blast away. Open the windows, put your head back against the seat, and just think about all those good times with that special person who you may or may not still be with, but that person whom you will never stop thinking of and loving just the same.

If you're with that special someone, listen to this one together and don't say a single word, but share in the moment and wish for many more to come in the future.

It's that classic Brian studio sound from Today/Summer Days that brings this one home. Again, The Real McCoy. And again, a warm welcome back for that higher register voice. We missed you. And we love you.

11. I'm Feeling Sad
The instrumental textures draw you in right away, that nylon string guitar panned opposite the steel string acoustic guitar, both playing complimenting arpeggio-based parts, almost reminiscent of "Everybody's Talkin'". This particular groove and beat could have fit on the Friends album, a more slow and loping shuffle accented by an active bass line that traces the chords in descending octaves and fifths. The lyrics are similar to Busy Doin Nothin, Brian describing going through the motions of a normal day as he's trying to talk himself out of being upset because the one he loves isn't there and he's waiting for her to return.

This feels like song therapy, and a song about trying to keep busy so the sadness doesn't overtake your whole day, even though you know it will.

12. Tell Me Why
Melodic and mellow brass, harpsichord, guitar, a very warm sounding bass, and the Be My Baby drum beat reshaped, this sets up the melancholy nature of the lyrics. Again, a very melodic vehicle to deliver the lyrics. Very nice, sparse string backings enter the mix under the melody.

The vocals are the key. Those harmony vocals swell and nearly explode on this track. Those glorious, soaring vocals. Full range from bass to baritone to soprano. They perfectly compliment the most pleading and forceful lyric of the song..."how many times do I have to explain, how many nights til' I see you again". It's the perfect marriage of the arrangement conveying the intensity and emotion of the lyric. Al Jardine, again delivering a powerhouse of a vocal, to be answered by Brian's more mellow reflections.

This is a powerful and fully orchestrated recording that never feels crowded, and which mirrors the emotional flow of the lines where Brian is going over the details to be answered by Al's more forceful demands to figure out how things went wrong.

13. Sail Away
A very fitting third installment into what could be considered Brian's seafaring trilogy, one which fittingly bring back the three key players involved in the previous entries. Al Jardine recommended recording Sloop John B, Brian turned it into an electrifying pop single with one of the best a capella vocal breaks in all of 1960's pop/rock. Blondie Chaplin sang lead on Sail On Sailor, arguably one of Brian's finest songs ever and perhaps the best Beach Boys single in the post-Capitol era. Here is the third piece, the reunion of sorts bringing together the sailing theme, the singers and musicians, and the musical references to both look back and propel into the present with this new song.

Blondie Chaplin is a natural if not perfect fit for this song. As he did with Sail On Sailor, he delivers enough grit and power in the lead to tell the story convincingly. His vocal packs the needed punch that would come from a man who sailed the open seas and lived to not only tell the story but express his joy at doing so. Al Jardine answers him, again delivering a terrific lead from his mysterious fountain of youth that has him sounding not much older than he did in 1965. Brian comes in, sounding joyful and optimistic while sounding like he lived a hard life leading up to this point. He took his licks, but he's still in love with the thought of hitting the open sea.

Carefree, throw caution to the wind, let's go away for a while. Hit the open seas together and have fun. Pure escapism, pure joy in dreaming such a thing could happen and even more joy in being able to actually do it.

I can't help but to hear the influence of Dennis Wilson running through this track. Not as much musically, although hearing Dennis singing these words would have been perfect too. But that idea of being a free spirit, of loving the freedom of taking to the open sea in your own boat and living on your own terms, I think that spirit lives through the sentiments in this song. Oh that we could all have that kind of notion and freedom to simply say we want to do something so carefree, then follow through and live it. It's a dream for most people, perhaps those who make it a reality are who we think of when hearing a song like this.

The instrumental track is worth hearing, and listening closely through headphones to pick out all of the details. This is a complex track with many very minute details in the arrangement and in the mix that provide a nod of recognition to a song like Sloop John B, as well as creating a new sonic pastiche that is befitting of the narrators later in their life looking back with such a fondness and an awareness of the past. And hope for the future. Again, the themes of the album.

Really solid drumming on this track.

14. One Kind Of Love
The unexpected and sometimes jarring chord changes and transitions underneath a smooth melody are both a highlight of this track and a hallmark of Brian's music in general. It's a trait which in lesser hands can make a song sound jumbled and disjointed, but to hear the product of skilled songcraft in the hands of a master craftsman, listen to some of the chord resolutions in this one. They shouldn't work, on paper, but they do work with that melody. Unique songwriting and craftsmanship.

It's almost comical that the wordless vocal and bass bridge at this point seems commonplace, like we know we're going to hear something like this where Brian is involved. Or, horrors, we may even expect to hear passages like this. Maybe we're spoiled, in a way, by hearing things like this all-too-brief musical interlude so often through the years. Because I almost expected it.

Then I realized, how many artists try to do that very same musical move, how many of them try to capture that effortless sound and flow of this music, and either overdo it by trying too hard, or simply turn it into parody rather than making it an essential element to construct the song?

I think we are spoiled. Because no one else really pulls off this kind of interlude as effortlessly as Brian.

15. Saturday Night (featuring Nate Reuss)
Going into this song, you hear a mandolin, banjo, electric guitar, and handclaps as the primary instruments, followed by an understated lead vocal, melodic yet settled. It almost feels like you can chart the direction this song is going to take. Pleasant, catchy, almost laid back.

Then it builds, the volume of the mix swells up, and the chorus punches through. It's unexpected, yet it highlights both Brian's quirky chord changes and Nate Reuss' soaring vocal range. It's quite a dramatic shift, but it works. And more importantly it compliments if not matches the sentiment of the lyrics.

The night being described may have some plans, but anything is possible. Whatever might happen is anyone's guess. The plans could go in any direction, but no matter what happens this night you're with the one you love. And all is well with the world, and all is well in that moment.

I think it's a great musical touch to have the chord progression, the harmonies, and even the form of the song take as many different twists and turns as this night out on Hollywood Boulevard could take. The sense of the unexpected is heard at every transition, where the music could go one way or we may perceive it as going another way, but it takes a sharp turn somewhere else. Yet it all fits. And the song moves through all of these twists and turns to a logical and satisfying conclusion, ending on an upbeat note. Whatever happens, we're together and that is all that matters. It concludes just as it began, settled and at peace. Musically and thematically.

Nate Reuss delivers a great vocal, especially in the chorus. It's the same kind of sound that drove the hits he is known for with fun., how that soaring voice can sell the chorus and hook both musically and emotionally. I'd like to hear him interpret some of Brian's other songs at some point in the future, if this is any proof they both have a keen understanding of how to put across the hook and message of a song through controlling the intensity and delivery of a lead vocal at those key points in the song.

16. The Last Song
A very fitting and emotional end to the album. Begin with a very sparse backing and intimate vocal, gradually build by adding wordless vocal melodies and string backing, then at the moment when the greatest emotional impact is being felt, the entire track surges in volume, number of voices, and instrumentation. It's a fitting arrangement for a fitting end to the album. Also a bookend of sorts to Summer's Gone.

The sentiment is also the fitting conclusion to the overall narration and storyline of the album. After all is said and done, there is a realization that there is not as much time as we may wish to do or say everything we want. Therefore, while there is still that time, make it count. Enjoy it.



Grab your keys, hop in the car, turn up the radio, and drive wherever you please. Enjoy the moment, because time is precious and becomes even more precious as we get older. Have fun in the present, but also acknowledge the past and be mindful of the future.

No Pier Pressure is my choice of a musical soundtrack for that drive. Keep the radio blastin'.


Craig (guitarfool2002) April 2015

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Debbie KL

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Reply with quote  #2 
Welcome, GuitarFool!  Thanks so much for sharing that remarkably complete review of No Pier Pressure.  I keep re-reading it to appreciate this cd even more.
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Lee Marshall

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Reply with quote  #3 
You know...I 'know' a guy who looks JUST like you.  Imagine the odds.  Cool that you've joined in at B.W. dot calm.  Yes the album is something EXTRA-Brian Wilson special.  Yes it's to be appreciated with a steering wheel in your hand.

And yes it really should be played loud.  [turn off the phone.  Don't even set it to vibrate.  Only the various good musical vibrations are required.]
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Debbie KL

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Reply with quote  #4 
Agreed, Lee! I actually extended my errands yesterday, I was having so much fun listening to NPP on the car radio.  I like it at home with the speakers blasting, but the driving experience is special, too.

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thorgil

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Reply with quote  #5 
Thanks a lot, Craig. I read your excellent article on the Smiley board while listening to NPP and it really added to my appreciation of the album. Thanks for sharing it here too, much appreciated.
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Ang Jones

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Reply with quote  #6 
My thanks too. I also read the review on the Smiley Smiley message board and it increased my understanding and appreciation of the album.

I certainly agree about the healing aspects of this work. Brian is described as having written 'sad songs about happiness' I believe but several of the songs on NPP do the reverse. It is a clever way of enabling people to experience emotion in a painless way, achieving catharsis - Brian used this word in one of the interviews I read. It relates also to the idea of listening whilst driving. It is another intelligent psychological tactic to use displacement activity. People may find it easier to open up to their feelings if they are not necessarily focussed on the fact that they are doing so. It's non confrontational and also informative because the message of the music adds to the changing scenario through which we are travelling. I find NPP to be particularly suitable to this kind of listening.

I've had the music stuck in my head since getting the album. Perhaps my favourite track is Our Special Love but my favourite moment is at about 1.53 into Saturday Night 'He baby, maybe we should pretend'... I've mentioned this before but can't really understand my reaction to it. This is classic Brian Wilson. In the latest Brian Wilson interview I read, he claimed he was not a genius. I know far less about music of course but to me there are flashes of what I would call genius throughout the album. I love Guess You Had to Be There too. And I love I'm Feeling Sad - here is one of those happy songs about sadness.

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Al Forsyth

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Reply with quote  #7 
Yes, this is nice review of the album.  I can't stop thinking and singing along to THE album and I think that it can only grow with as you listen more and more.  So in that way, it is a classic Brian/Beach Boys listening experience where you unwrap more.

I like the drive test but my favorite is the hike test.  I don't live too far from the AT where I really like to plug in and hike away just walking and trying to dig in to the music.  No one sees you bopping around in the middle of nature and if they do, they are having their own natural experience.  Hoping that I can find a spell of time to do this - six to eight hour block-o-time.  So maybe you treadmill test it or whatever, but trying giving that moving test.

Faves will hopefully change throughout time, but it's still Saturday Night for me still.  It has that classic catch to it. 

Great, great  job with this, Craig (guitar fool).

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ray lawlor

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Craig ; as I said on SS.com , this is a great in depth visit to NPP; I enjoyed reading it very much. As you said this is a great record for audiophiles; great headphoneexperience as well. I am looking forward to the acid test ; putting the top down and blasting it in the car, however it's 39 g...d..nm  degrees here in NY !  It will have to wait.
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Ang Jones

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The weather has been surprisingly good here in the UK for most of the time since NPP came out so plenty of opportunity to make car journeys more interesting.
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Deb#1

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I hear all of you, craving the windows down and the sound cranked, listening to NPP.  I haven’t popped the top on my convertible just yet, but any day now I will.  I think you could play NPP almost anywhere, anytime and it would fit, from the car stereo to while you are doing the dishes.  It has such a broad range of feels.  I’ve become partial to listening with the candles lit and a nice claret in hand.  This seems to be a very emotional album to me.

I can visualize the illusion that Craig sets up: cruising LA, sampling the tunes.  The guest vocals serve up some happening scenes as you go: colorful people, Saturday night. But I also get a sense of wistfulness, a melancholy that winds like a ribbon through it all.  Brian’s leads are very reflective and dreamy…”whatever happened?…the starry nights, the harbor lights, the moon across the bay”; yet hopeful “and when you hold love in your hand, then you’ll understand…”  This album packs as much emotion for me now as Pet Sounds did for me when I was young at heart (PS still does).  It has me remembering the times that were (the good, the bad, and the crazy), facing moving on, getting old, and all the scariness that brings.  The emotional wallop hits home to me with “Hold on tight, and everything will be alright…” .  Will it? I'll have to trust it to be so.

Thanks for your review, Craig (guitarfool).  You expound so well on the music and explain so well why I am so fond of this album.  Thanks to you and to Ray, too, for stopping by, honorable guests.  Speaking of which, I’d nominate Debbie KL for that honor over there on the SS. (Just saying, from another Debbie. [wink])


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skootz

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Reply with quote  #11 
this is my knee jerk reaction to the snippets I heard on iTunes--a bit less JT and various guests, let Brian produce himself...I am grateful for all the opinions/reviews that are here, apparently all of them positive...when I have a lot more time and I'm not so nervous/distracted (I've got a gig tonight) I'll check out what guitarfool wrote...and I'll say again--IMO Nate Ruess could take or should have taken Freddie Mercury's place--easily...
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guitarfool2002

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Reply with quote  #12 
Thank you for all of the replies and comments! I wanted to post that here as well to give more of the musical and sonic perspective alongside everything else, because I feel a majority of reviews I've read so far (and it's been a lot) have sadly missed the audiophile nature of this record - It quite simply sounds amazing.

I listened again through my headphones Friday night (AKG studio monitors, flat response) to make sure I wasn't imagining how blown away I was by the sounds and how they were recorded and mixed. I'm happy to report everything I wrote and said before Friday was true, and was confirmed even more. The attention to detail in this recording and mix is superb. Don't let anyone try to argue different - The sound of this record is very "full" with instruments and vocals, yet there is room enough for individual parts to breathe and get their own space in the mix. And kudos again for what I think is some of the finest electric bass recording I've heard in some time. Drums too. Everything has a place in this mix.

I can't stress enough how good this sounds on a decent system or good, "flat" headphones.

But the best way is in a car, very loud, and with a warm breeze blowing in the windows. Hopefully spring will arrive for real on the northern part of the east coast so I can partake in that as well. [smile]


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Al Forsyth

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Reply with quote  #13 
It is Bob Clearmountain on final mix - the best - isn't it?  The entire project was with production in mind.  After hearing everything on YouTube and then the final product, it was staggering.  Go Team Wilson.  Film is next.



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thorgil

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Reply with quote  #14 
I can only confirm the first impressions I posted after three listens. Many spins later, imo NPP is the best of Brian "true" solo albums, together with TLOS, and slightly better than TWGMTR (less filler).
About the sonic quality, it's ear candy.
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kds

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Reply with quote  #15 
I listened to NPP again yesterday.  I like it a little more each time I hear it.  

That said, I think the weak links on the album are the tracks with guest artists.  Surely, they could've made Runaway Dancer sound more like the Soundstage version.  I know there have been a lot of positive things said about Runaway Dancer, Our Special Love, and Guess You Had to Be There, but I think each song derails the album a bit.  

On the Island is a fun song.  I've come around on that one.  Reminds me of a Jimmy Buffett track.  Although I wonder how many people would absolutely tear this song apart if it were written by Mike Love.  

Saturday Night is, by far, my favorite track featuring a non BB guest.  It adds a little bit of light between Our Kind of Love and The Last Song.  

I think This Beautiful Day is a great opener.  Whatever Happened probably should've followed it, and its the first we hear from Mr. Jardine.  

Half Moon Bay is a great instrumental.  It sort of reminds me of a cross between Let's Go Away for a While and David Gilmour's Red Sky at Night.  

The Right Time is another great track.  Sort of an update on Lay Down Burden.  

The bonus tracks in the middle are pretty good.  I'm Feeling Sad is probably my favorite of those.  Although really starting to like Don't Worry.  Kinda reminds me of mid 80s Phil Collins a bit.  

The absolute highlight to me is Sail Away.  In a perfect world, this would be the song of the Summer of 2015.  It probably will be for me.  

Our Kind of Love is a sweet song.  The intro echoes a bit of You Still Believe in Me.  

The Last Song is a gut wrenchingly beautiful song.  The universal lyrics make it special as it could be applied to a break up, the end of a friendship, the death of a loved one, somebody moving away, or even the end of Brian's tenure in The Beach Boys or the end of his recording or touring career.  Its really up to the listener.  

All in all, it's probably a close second to TLOS for Brian's solo albums.  

It feels like a bit of a companion to TWGMTR (since it's been revealed many of these songs were written in the late 1990s).  At the time I write this, I probably like TWGMTR a little bit more as an album.  But NPP might have more great parts on it.  
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