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After Many Years
By Shawn Stone

Brian Wilson
Smile (Nonesuch)

On the long list of things one thought would never happen, the completion of the lost Beach Boys album Smile was near the top. In 1966, genius-boy Brian Wilson followed Pet Sounds with the six-months-in-the-making hit “Good Vibrations.” The B-Boys toured; he stayed in Cali cooking up a distinctly American concept album—with lyricist Van Dyke Parks—that would show those Limey bastards, the Beatles, a thing or two.

Didn’t happen. Brian had serious problems with dope, and the band had problems with the songs. To save face—Smile had been widely hyped—Smiley Smile was hastily recorded and released instead. Many like this album, but to these ears it’s unlistenable crap made by stoned idiots who didn’t have a fucking clue about arrangements or production. (The best proof of this is the 1971 album Surf’s Up, on which the Boys finally figured out how to operate in the studio without Brian.)

What Smile would have sounded like has been a great guessing game for decades. The fragments pointed in different directions: Would it have been bizarre and jokey, like the alternate version of “Heroes and Villains,” with its midsong break for aural comedy? Or would it have been edgy and adventurous, like the 1966 demo of “Surf’s Up,” with its threatening outbursts of brass and Brian’s scary, lonely lead vocal?

This entirely new version, made without any Beach Boys involvement, is both—sort of. There’s plenty of humor in the farm- animal squawk of “Barnyard,” and an odd menace in the minor-key treatment of “You Are My Sunshine” and the fearsome “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow,” but neither mood dominates. This Smile, a collaboration between Wilson, Parks and vocalist-multinstrumentalist-“secretary” Darian Sahanaja, is right down the middle, both cohesive and listener-friendly.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Wilson’s arrangement of the full-length songs with shorter pieces into suites is ingenious, to the point of seeming almost organic. And he does it in a way that makes Paul McCartney (Abbey Road, side two) and most subsequent imitators seem like punks.

There’s only one great “new” song on the disc, mostly because the B-Boys raided Smile for every commercially usable song for assorted albums they released from ’67 to ’71. And it’s the aforementioned “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow.” Originally it was called “Fire,” and Wilson was convinced it actually started real California wildfires when it was first recorded. (Ah—the ’60s.) Tellingly, every song rerecorded for Smiley Smile—“Wonderful,” “Vega-Tables,” and “Wind Chimes”—is much improved on here. And every original Smile track released in later years by the B-Boys—especially the transcendent “Surf’s Up”—suffers slightly in comparison.

If this release of Smile is a vindication for Brian Wilson, it’s a triumph for lyricist Van Dyke Parks. He’s an American original, and his mix of historical references and non sequiturs seems funnier, and more moving, than ever. He likely is wearing the biggest smile of anyone.

Last Call
The After Hours (Victimized Records)

Unimpressed by what commer- cial metal and rapcore bands offered through the late ’90s, Troy hardcore bands like Dying Breed, Stigmata, Flat Broke and One King Down kept the local hardcore underground afloat. Its ability to withstand the seasonal nature of popular genres cannot be underestimated. The men are lager-hardened black shirts with three-day stubble, their knuckles bruised; yet the scowls bend into smiles surprisingly easily. The women are practical and scrumptious, and suffer no fools kindly, grinding cigarettes out on the arms of drunken suitors. Scenes come and go, but this South End artillery just keeps pounding the kids into landfill year after year. Troycore has a long and wonderfully pestilent history, and the city is well-known nationally for being a priority tour stop. Bands like the CroMags, Hatebreed, Murphy’s Law, Madball, Agnostic Front, Sworn Enemy and Sheer Terror have forged strong friendships within its working-class ranks, which now include the impossible-to-ignore Last Call. Their full-length debut, The After Hours, is a corpulent, dastardly bit of crossover that suitably carries out the mission set forth by Collar City’s finest back in the day.

Last Call’s brand of hardcore is timeless, like an old tour shirt, like a good war movie involving Japanese Zeros. Singer Ralph Renna takes betrayal, just desserts, pride, failure and the embarrassment of addiction, chops them into powder and makes blasting caps. Thrash and punk influences give the songwriting a crucial edge, the guitars just sort of basking in that racy, old-school buzz that gets the blood boiling and the fists soaked with other people’s sweat. No processed nonsense here, just powerful drumming and cataclysmic breakdowns, the crunchy hardcore goodness that makes life better. Punch that clock and pay the goddamn bills, and that’s how it should be. There’s clearly a smelting of influences here: The unforgiving “Conspiracy” is driven home by a wash of dirty punk, and the searing “Diablo” is a brutal Hesh study working like a lesser demon to wedge its message in your rotten-egg bucket nice and proper. But Last Call’s specialty is really just hellish, hyperbaric hardcore anthems like “Interrupted Angel” and “Mud in Yer’ Eye.” I mean good God, the might!

On a technical note, the production could have packed a little more ass-whomp. It is difficult to play the disc at blessed, harmful volumes due to a fierce low end, and that’s a shame, because songs like “Ghost in the Mirror” and CD opener “Deep End” are just begging for it. I mean, bashing-on-the-Bilco-door jonesing for it. I mention this because it’s all here: alacrity; fortitude; a strong, uncomplicated message; unimpeachable chops. I’m just one of those guys who would have liked Renna and Co. to spend more than one day on this disc. That said, it’s an explosive debut for a few hours’ work.

—Bill Ketzer

Vitamin-D
Build Another (Landlocked)

The trumpet never found a comfortable voice in rock & roll. The lung-powered instrument that was there from the start was the saxophone. Its ability to convey rebellion and breathy gritty sex made it a natural in everything from surf combos to the carefully contrived Dave Clark Five. Flutes? We won’t even mention them. But the trumpet was only to be found as part of a horn section, the polite friend brought along to the party by Mr. Saxophone. It wasn’t until the second decade of the genre, when “& roll” fell by the wayside that the potential for the instrument was explored. Thank the nonrocker himself, Herb Alpert, and thank the pocket trumpet solo on “Penny Lane” for opening brass doors. The trumpet’s sonorous imprint adds a regal bearing, and its human-scaled expressiveness can tug at the heart in the way a guitar never can.

Which leads me to the debut release by Vitamin-D, a Brooklyn-based ensemble built around trumpeteer, guitarist, singer and songwriter Dennis Cronin. His playing has graced such pastoral entities as Lambchop and the Willard Grant Conspiracy. Here he’s surpassed the works of some of his peers, creating a gently undulating set that moves gracefully from the instrumental opener “Valentine,” a beautiful melody over the foundation of austere piano chords, to the sly rhythmic tug of the unembellished electric guitar riffing on “Clear.” The set’s two covers perfectly describe the breadth of Cronin’s interests: Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 3,” here offered up in the midst of party buzz audio verité, and Vic Chesnutt’s “When I Ran Off And Left Her.”

—David Greenberger


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