Pugwash: Giddy

RIYL: XTC, The Kinks, The Beach Boys

It’s hard to believe that a band as talented as Dublin’s Pugwash could have such a low profile in a post-MySpace world – though if we’re being honest, that band name is doing them no favors whatsoever – but expect that to change post haste. Thomas Walsh, lead singer and songwriter for Pugwash, was recently showered with accolades for his work in the Duckworth Lewis Method, a concept album about cricket that Walsh assembled with Divine Comedy singer Neil Hannon. Leave it to the band’s new label head Andy Partridge to strike while the iron is hot with Giddy, a collection of the finest moments from Pugwash’s first four albums. You can tell what Partridge sees in the band – namely, himself. “Song for You” is a dead ringer for Apple Venus-era XTC, and “Apples” is about as perfect a pop song as you’ll find. The unstoppably sunny “It’s Nice to Be Nice” will make Brian Wilson shed tears of joy, but the band isn’t stuck mining ’60s pop gold; “Monorail” out-Beck’s Beck, and look for Kelly Jones and the Stereophonics to cover “Finer Things in Life” in the near future.

Even better, Giddy features material from the band’s forthcoming album Eleven Modern Antiquities, and if the groovy “My Genius” is any indication (that has to be Hannon on backing vocals), it looks as though Pugwash are just getting warmed up. Pardon the cliché, but this is the best pop band you’ve never heard. (Ape House 2009)

Pugwash MySpace page
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Various Artists: Where The Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968

RIYL: Byrds, Beach Boys, Love

One would think that it wouldn’t have taken six volumes before the renowned Nuggets series finally got around to the fertile music scene that dominated Los Angeles in the mid ‘60s. With ample sets devoted to London and San Francisco, and extensive treatment given New York and the Northeast, cynics might perceive Where the Action Is! almost as an afterthought, coming, as it does, this late in the Nuggets progression. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome addition to the canon, given that the ‘60s were practically defined by the folk rock, psychedelia and experimental sounds that echoed through the Southern California canyons, its sprawling suburbs, white, sunny beaches, and the haunts and hangouts on the Sunset Strip. And while the roll call of musicians birthed in those environs encompasses some of the more formidable figures of modern rock and pop, the L.A. scene was also responsible for would-be innovators who etched only a momentary foothold in that innovative era.

This, of course, is where Nuggets has always served its purpose, to bring to light the obscure and unlikely artists that have slipped through the cracks, both the one-hit wonders and early permutations of bands that would ultimately achieve stardom under some later aegis. And in the case of Where The Action Is!, that mission has never been better served. The obvious examples from that era are, of course, well-represented, from Captain Beefheart and the Byrds to the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield, while bands like Love, the Seeds and the Turtles, transient teen idols Dino, Desi & Billy, Kim Fowley and Keith Allison, and preposterous pretenders such as Peter Fonda and Noel Harrison also find a good fit. As befitting those heady, innocent days, there are plenty of band brands that give cause for chuckles, given that the psychedelic ‘60s propagated groups with names like the Everpresent Fullness, London Phogg, Farpardokly, Limey & the Yanks, Ken & the Fourth Dimension, the W.C. Fields Memorial Electric String Band and, of course, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy.

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Al Jardine is doing just fine

I’ve been a huge Beach Boys fan for years. I saw them (sans Brian) a few years back and they put on an enjoyable show. Obviously, I would have preferred the lineup of the Wilson brothers, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston, but that’s impossible for plenty of reasons. Given my enthusiasm, I’m familiar with all the members and the albums worth one’s time. Ask any casual listener, however, and they’ll probably be unable to name more than two guys from the band. They may know Brian, Dennis, and Mike, but definitely not Al Jardine. Well, Jardine was the band’s rhythm guitarist for most of their career and often sang the falsetto part in their harmonies. Most notably, he sang lead on “Help Me, Rhonda,” “California Saga: California,” and “Vegetables.” In recent years, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston have continued to tour as the Beach Boys while Brian Wilson is in the midst of a successful solo career. Jardine’s productivity, however, has been a mystery. Until now. The Improper clues us in that Jardine is touring with his new act, Al Jardine’s Endless Summer, in support of his first solo album.

Jardine, to me, never really stood out as a singular artist; he was always there with the Wilson Boys, Brian, Dennis and Carl. Now, seeing him front his own act, Al Jardine’s Endless Summer was one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.

His sons, Matt and Adam now handle the Brian-like vocals and boy, they are impressive. Also joining them was David Marks who was, one of the original Beach Boys, according to Cuddy, even replacing Jardine for a time. Boy, imagine having to live with that!

But tonight he was back and certainly impressive. Richie Cannata, late of the Billy Joel’s band was on horns, percussion and keyboards and was simply dazzling, adding a nice extra-texture to everything. Jardine will release his first solo album, A Postcard From California on Sept. 7, and on it he has guest spots from Brian, Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Glen Campbell, Flea and Steve Miller.

I’ll see if I can catch them when they release a tour schedule.