YYY – A Tribute to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds

In an interview, Austin Carson, who is YYY, talked about being inspired by the same Phil Spector “wall of sound” that inspired Brian Wilson, but for most of the album (and all the songs from Pet Sounds itself) he never really achieves that. Where he succeeds is not in the wall, but more in the corners, the subtleties where his creativity shines: a skateboard versus a train, cats versus dogs, bits of unique studio conversation preserved in the final mix and transitions between songs. “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” slips into “Sloop John B” with such ease that only familiarity with the songs themselves makes it clear that the track has changed.

There are points at which Carson’s efforts really flower and that makes it worth sitting through the places where he breaks Wilson’s songs. Simply rearranging songs for electronica is not enough for an average album, let alone an early masterpiece of music production. The problem with his tribute album is that Carson seems to have had some good ideas for some songs from Pet Sounds and perhaps felt compelled to complete the project without similar inspiration for others. Many songs lack an interesting angle across the song. There is a really interesting banjo part in “Hang on to Your Ego,” but the track as a whole is mundane. Other times, there’s a good idea that gets dashed by the little things. The R&B feel of “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” really works, but its success is limited by forced, typical and almost goofy electronica.

“Good Vibrations” is tacked on to the end and it makes sense, because it fits Pet Sounds in spirit better than it does either of the Beach Boys albums on which it appears. It is too adventurous for Smiley Smile and too complete for Smile. But on a cover album that has up to this point found only qualified achievement of its ambitions, especially in terms of matching up to Wilson’s strengths as a producer and arranger, there was little hope that including it here was a good call. Oh, how wrong! It is only here that Austin finds his own inner Wilson/Spector. Perhaps “bath of sound” is a better term, because the waves of sound just wash everything else away. The good vibrations themselves, the song’s triplet rhythm, change form throughout in a way that seems unimaginable. The crescendo at the end is just a psychedelic wonderland. It achieves that rare success in a cover song: it respects the essence of the original without being constrained by it.

In the end, it’s a noble effort, but one that was almost destined to fail. Taken as a whole, I think YYY’s attempt to remake Pet Sounds does fail, but success in this case is such a high mountain that there can be a lot of small successes along the way that make it worth the listen. In the end though, I would listen to all of the album’s flaws on repeat a thousand times to be rewarded with YYY’s mind-blowing cover of “Good Vibrations.”

Released: July 12, 2017

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

1 thought on “YYY – A Tribute to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds

  1. Chuck

    I never would have listened to this without your review. The album cover alone is so incredibly offputting that I almost didn’t listen to it, despite your review. Seriously, this is one of the worst album covers I’ve ever seen. I get the tongue-in-cheek irony, but at best, it’s a lazy joke that has absolutely nothing to do with the music or the purpose of the album.

    Anyway, I’m glad I got past the cover because this is a gem. There’s warmth and artful creativity here, and those are pretty much the last two things I expected to find, even after reading your review. It feels like all the artists brought not only a genuine appreciation (if not love) for the original album, but also their own best selves to the songs.

    “Good Vibrations” is pretty great. I’m not as blown away as you were, but it stands on its own legs next to the original, which is a significant accomplishment. And the ending … you’re right, that outro is fantastic. But what happens at the very end? At least on Spotify, it just stops. Did Spotify cut it early or did they just end it like that? My only complaint about GV is it deserved a better ending.

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