The Explorers Club
(Rock Ridge Music)
Kicking off with the sound of waves and a slow groove introduced by ukulele (or classical guitar?), the Explorers Club's Grand Hotel's "Acapulco (Sunrise)" commences with the same breezy Hawaiian vibe as a classic surf film, a la Endless Summer. Up next is "Run Run Run," the album's apparent single. It's a frozen-yogurt-smooth recording that wastes no time getting to its Beach Boys-style harmonies and horn arrangements. It's over before we know it, dropping directly into a downright dirty Bobby Whitlock/Eric Clapton-esque organ/guitar intro. By the chorus of "Anticipatin'," however, there's nothing unclean about the high harmonies sung over a driving tambourine beat.
By the time the Herb Alpert horn lines debut on the intoxicating instrumental title track, it's evident that the Explorers Club has crossed a line. Grand Hotel, the band's first full-length since their 2008 debut Freedom Wind, is not just the sophomore effort of a handful of guys who happen to really like the Beach Boys. This music is hardly a tribute. It's staggering in scope, reaching levels of skilled orchestration that rival even Brian Wilson's opuses.
The hand-clapped/horn-laden chorus of "Go for You" took me back to toddler days, being danced around the living room by my Beach Boys-loving mother. It's followed by the infectious one-minute "Any Little Way," replete with oddly delivered lyrics that remind us, once again, that this is a visionary album.
Halfway through, "It's No Use" seems to indicate a detour in the collection's upbeat energy, only to finish with a finger-snapping call-and-response. "I've Been Waiting" almost finds an '80s pop vibe, dropping a few power chords before falling into the requisite "ooohs" and hand claps. "It's You" finally allows the listener to fully recline, before hopping back on the longboard for the supposed outro, "Acapulco (Sunset)."
Grand Hotel could have ended there, wrapped neatly in the surf film theme, so the final three songs seem oddly tacked on. "Summer Days, Summer Nights" and "Weight of the World" are not particularly exciting, giving naysayers an excuse to use adjectives like "syrupy." It closes with "Open the Door," a slow roller with a booming crescendo that won't win any new fans over, but will please those already sold by the dozen tracks that preceded the disc's odd appendix.
The Explorers Club will probably always see reviews about themselves that include references to the Beach Boys. The group's predecessors are undeniably a huge influence, but they've embraced history and let it shape the future, creating an album that stands strongly on its own feet. Grand Hotel will undoubtedly find a national audience, and deservedly so. (rockridgemusic.com/explorersclub)
The Explorers Club performs at the Pour House on Fri. March 2.