The Explorers Club, Grand Hotel

Published on February 14th, 2012 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan

the explorers club grand hotel cover

You’ve got to admire Jason Brewer, the founder of Charleston, South Carolina’s The Explorers Club. Barely 30, Brewer has mastered the language of 1960s pop songwriting with the kind of heart, skill, and creative ambition that would be the envy of any musician, especially those who were old enough to have been there in the first place. His band’s well-reviewed 2008 debut, Freedom Wind, echoed some of the Beach Boys’ most gorgeous moments; it was such a grand love letter to Brian Wilson that Brian Wilson’s own 2008 album That Lucky Old Sun was probably only the second-best Brian Wilson album that year.

But Brewer and company were not content to coast on those Hawthorne waves. The group concocted plans for an ambitious follow-up, a musical travelogue through the eclectic soft-pop sounds of the sixties. Three years in the making, the journey finally begins with Grand Hotel, out February 14 on Rock Ridge Music. It’s an adventurous and richly realized tour that brought The Explorers Club full circle, working with acclaimed Beach Boys audio engineer Mark Linnet.

“We really want this record to make a lot of people smile, to inject some positivity into the world,” Brewer said. “Let’s stop making things so serious and introspective, and get away on a musical vacation so we can bring a little bit of joy to people.”

Joy is definitely the key ingredient in the cinematic tracks on Grand Hotel, from the playful bossa nova sounds of the album’s opener “Acapulco (Sunrise)” to the cheerful whistling on the aptly named “Sweet Delights.” It’s not just dreamy sonic escapism; “Run Run Run” is an irresistibly catchy hit single in any decade, with an arrangement that will make you want to go up, up, and away in The Explorers Club’s beautiful balloon.

Linnet’s deft mixing touch adds the polish and punch that the outfit’s well-reviewed debut long player, Freedom Wind, occasionally missed. Like Grand Hotel, that album featured countless tasty hooks, but the rich production on Grand Hotel shows the band has grown by leaps and bounds. There’s real analog warmth here, and smooth-as-silk harmonies for miles.

And while the Beach Boys influence is never quite out of mind—not with a track entitled “Summer Days, Summer Nights”—the Club’s soulful side really comes through this time out, especially on tracks like “Anticipatin'” and especially “Go For You,”, a hand-clapping, foot-stomping monster hit that would have been on every AM station’s Boss Radio hot 30 circa 1968. One almost expects the Real Don Steele to break in with a station ID. “Bluebird” recalls one of those great Glen Campbell/Jimmy Webb pop collaborations, and the title track, “Grand Hotel,” is a muscular instrumental that recalls nothing so bizarre and wonderful as the Tijuana Brass collaborating with the Grass Roots in the middle of an Elvis movie.

There’s a welcome, winning innocence to The Explorers Club’s lyrics and melodies. There’s no winking irony or über-meta recontextualizing of the music of the 1960s here—just dynamite songwriting and great musicianship. For good and for ill, The Explorers Club have been tagged as a sixties revival band, but this isn’t music that’s stuck in the past. Brewer and songwriting collaborators Troy Stains and Mike Williamson seem to approach Explorers Club songwriting within the ’60s pop framework the same way a contemporary classical composer would approach Mozart—respectfully cribbing the best bits and then building something brand new.

That philosophy is best exemplified in the album’s epic closer, “Open The Door.” Full of heightened drama and grand scale worthy of Roy Orbison, “Open The Door” is a nakedly honest plea for emotional openness and truth in a world full of tired cynicism. “Open the door and let love in,” Brewer implores. It’s good advice. Check into the Grand Hotel and try it for yourself.

Grand Hotel was released on February 14 through Rock Ridge Music. For more on the band and to purchase the album, please visit their website.

Tour Dates:
02/14/2012 in Boston, MA at The Lizard Lounge w/Oranjuly
02/15/2012 in New York, NY at Rockwood Music Hall w/Honeychurch (EARLY SHOW – 7pm)
02/16/2012 in Brooklyn, NY at Spike Hill w/ Color Bars
02/17/2012 in Asbury Park, NJ at The Saint
02/18/2012 in Washington, DC at The Dunes w/Dot Dash
02/18/2012 in Fords, NJ at Vintage Vinyl // 12pm, In Store Event: Performance and Signing!!
03/02/2012 in Charleston, SC at The Pour House // Album Release Show w/SUNBEARS! and Gringo Star
03/03/2012 in Charleston SC at Monster Music // 2pm, In Store Event: Performance and Signing!!

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