Crisp production and tender performances from all members of The Explorers Club aside, their newest release, Grand Hotel, lacks the extra edge required to escape a number of the kitschy pitfalls of era infatuation.
For Jason Brewer, David Ellis, and the rest of the Club, their undying reverence lies with the Beach Boys singles and suburban supermarket jingles of yore. Grand Hotel features quaint barbershop ballads and soft, surfside rockers in spades, and The Explorers Club borrow gluttonously from the sounds of ’60s and ’70s popular American music, providing sharp delivery but lacking sufficient self-awareness. They straddle the line between hokey homage and genuine breeziness, but the utterly frustrating task of Grand Hotel becomes discovering what The Explorers Club now actually sounds like, rather than who or what they want to sound like. Nonetheless, Brewer and company’s vocal harmonies are to swoon for in places, ranging more towards soprano than Brian Wilson’s alto, and old-school Americana drips off every warm keyboard hit, horn embellishment, and lyric about gosh-darn romances from simpler times.
The album’s flow impresses, from summery car-ride earworms like “Run, Run, Run” to slow-burning love confessionals like “It’s You”, apparently the Grease outtake we weren’t sure we wanted to hear. The “Acapulco” bookends provide cheery, cheesy cinematic context for the first 12 songs, with the final trio of tunes played out as a satisfying encore.
Grand Hotel lives and loves the past, and the sentimental styles it respectfully dons only push minimal boundaries (if any), despite the band‘s careful expertise and restraint. It is something of a feat in 2012 to take ingredients from decades ago and serve them up impressively (and non-ironically), but without being in on the joke, the Club gets swallowed up in a wall of pet sounds.
Essential Tracks: “Sweet Delights,” “Summer Days, Summer Nights,” and “It’s You”