A list of music my dad likes: Chicago, Kenny G and Tennessee Ernie Ford. More or less, that is the list. I’m always excited when I hear something that I think he might appreciate, but those moments are almost all hypothetical. With the Explorers Club’s “Grand Hotel,” we might have a winner.
The South Carolina band takes us on a tropical vacation on their second album, the sounds of the Beach Boys finding new life in their songs. If the Explorers Club had played the Grammys instead of the actual Beach Boys, people might not have minded. Unlike previously reviewed retro-influenced acts the Asteroids Galaxy Tour and Foxy Shazam, the Explorers Club doesn’t really aim to inject fresh life into 1960s-style pop-rock nor add some exciting modern twist. They are purists, and “Grand Hotel” sounds like a record out of time — not a trace of irony to be found.
Opening instrumental track “Acapulco” affirms my faith in albums with instrumental intros, setting a tone for the entire project. Any track from “Grand Hotel” could make it into a Wes Anderson movie; just throw in Jason Schwartzman and maybe a Wilson brother and you’re good. The band’s sound is clothed in clever callbacks to a cheesy record store aesthetic that circles back to cool.
The Explorers Club dips liberally from the mid-century culture pot. “Run Run Run” is pure Beach Boys with a Grass Roots flair (“run run run,” “fun fun fun,” tomato, tomahto). It reminded this reviewer of the old Sonny and Cher and Brady Bunch variety shows, which may be an association unique to me. “Anticipatin'” throws a little bluesy twinge into the mix, with maybe some Mamas and the Papas wafting in the chorus. “Bluebird” is easily the most joyful track on the album, composed of sunbeams and summer breezes and the smell of daffodils. It’s unaffected and unbridled sweetness.
The title track, which oddly enough is an instrumental break, probably does the best job of any song at summarizing the sound the Explorers Club is going for, much like similar tracks on Asteroids Galaxy Tour’s “Out of Frequency.” Whereas that band is trying to capture ’70s psychadelic funk, “Grand Hotel” hones in on the nonthreatening, optimistic good-naturedness of ’60s pop. There not a lot of Jimi or Janis here, but there is SO much Burt Bacharach.
Unfortunately, this is a front-loaded album, and things get a little less exciting for “Grand Hotel.” “Any Little Way” is thin blue-eyed soul by way of elevator music and pan flutes. “It’s No Use” sounds like any Carpenters song but with male vocals. Also, the vocal track splits off toward the end between left and right speakers, a nice little stereophonic treat that actually made jump in the middle of Starbucks. The last few tracks are a little schmaltzier than I would like, but the closing “Open the Door” saves things with its sharp military beat.
“Grand Hotel,” as a whole, is just one of the most genuine, earnest albums I’ve heard. There’s not a shred of cynicism to be found. And while I normally subsist on introspection, the Explorers Club puts all of its cards on the table. It’s not challenging in any way, but neither is a Sunday afternoon.
(2) “Run Run Run”