A Long Time Coming
Transmissions from the Grand Strand
US: 17 Apr 2012
King of Prussia took a rather circuitous route to recording and releasing their full-length sophomore album, Transmissions from the Grand Strand. Originally based in Athens, Georgia – home to the likes of R.E.M. and the Olivia Tremor Control, among others – the band was basically the brainchild of Brandon Hanick and Trey McManus, the latter of whom has seemingly since left the group. (The press release that accompanied my digital copy of the album doesn’t mention him as a core member.) They recorded the songs that made up their 2007 debut, Save the Scene, on a Boss BR-1180 Digital Recording Studio, a portable multi-track recording rig, and then fleshed out the band with extra players for going on tour. They signed with Athens’ Kindercore Records, and all seemed peachy keen. Well, it took a long time for the group to follow up their initial effort. The sessions for Transmissions from the Grand Strand started rolling in August 2009 at a proper recording studio for the first time, Sea Note Recording in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (the principal city of the Southern Atlantic coastal region known as “The Grand Strand”), and, well, the band tinkered. And tinkered. And tinkered. For almost three years. They had to go to fans via Kickstarter to raise $3,500 to put the finishing touches on the record, and, somewhere in all of this (2008 to be precise), Hanick had moved to Barcelona, picked up more band members, toured around Europe, and added more and more flourishes to Transmissions while overseas. In late 2011, Hanick returned to the U.S., the band set up shop in an old church in Chicago that had been converted into a house, and basically got out of their Kindercore contract, which means that they’re going at it alone for Transmissions in terms of releasing the physical product. What’s more, there are 16 members that play on the album from five different countries. And that’s the basic backstory. Whew! That’s enough to tucker out any indie pop fan.
If you think that sounds like Hanick and company basically set off to make their own indie pop version of SMiLE, well, you wouldn’t be far off the mark, though Transmissions doesn’t share the fractured pop sensibility of that Beach Boys album. Transmissions bears all of the hallmarks of an album that has been fussed over, though: the instrumentation is layered, the songs feel that they’ve been sculpted, and, through it all, songwriter and singer Hanick makes each note count. The sound is alternately a throwback to ‘60s baroque pop with slight touches of ‘80s twee, but doesn’t seem particularly rooted to a certain time or place. That’s what makes Transmissions a thoroughly enjoyable affair: these certainly are teenage symphonies to God in their own peculiar way. While the band does cave in to the odd indulgence, and sometimes tip-toes down a path that might have been better undiscovered, you’d have to really reach to say something outlandishly horrible about the end result. It’s a light, breezy disc – you can practically smell the sea salt from the Atlantic wafting over the gallant melodies – and it is a perfect summery soundtrack that calls to mind, a little bit, the work of such British bands as the Clientele had they’d been filtered through Elephant 6 collective bands such as the Ladybug Transistor. There are a handful of great pop gems, a few instrumentals, and a six-minute celebratory rave up to end the proceedings (complete with congratulatory applause at the very end, as though King of Prussia finally realized that they’d come to the very end of an extremely long and taxing process and needed to acknowledge it on tape).
Transmissions starts off with the peppy “Oh Me” (no, not a version of the classic Meat Puppets song that was in turn covered by Nirvana) that starts out with a muted organ line, before bursting forth like fireworks or a flower in bloom that shakes off the unnaturally quiet beginning. Full of bristling hooks and a hummable melody, “Oh Me” is a vital start to a great album. And then “The Shake Shake” arguably betters that start. A jangly melody and ear-tingling female backing vocals throughout make for a track that could be a candidate for blaring out of car speakers on the beach during the hazy dog days of summer. The laidback country rhythms of “Pedals on Delay” feel like a hidden gem: a B-side track that could easily make for a double A-side. “Arabian Thoroughbred” is another lovely song that you might want to sip tea to, with its finessed glassy guitars. “Your Graduating Hours”, the album’s first single, could pass for being a Camera Obscura song, if only there’d been female vocals on the lead. “The Ghost of Lestartit”, with its haunting theremin, gently strummed acoustic guitars and its out-of-tempo breakdown sections recalls the goofy dementia of some of the Olivia Tremor Control. And so it goes. There are a few stumbles, though. The acoustic and Mellotron fuelled instrumental passage “Love on a Metro” feels slight and unassuming, and at even just a few whiskers over two minutes in length, it feels a little long-winded. And then the final song, the aforementioned six-minute “... For the Masters Said It So”, feels as though it belongs on another album, with its blaring horns and cavernous drums. Perhaps it is just pointing the way to the next release, as final songs are sometimes wont to do, but still it sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb.
Overall, though, Transmissions is a fairly strong album in which a great deal of care has been taken in terms of its construction. King of Prussia is going out on a bit of a limb by releasing this on their own, which is a bit of a shame as it could close the occasional door to some radio stations and press outlets who don’t like taking chances on seemingly vanity releases. If anything, Transmissions is an album that deserves to be heard by as many people as possible, for, when it’s strong, it is a potent distillation of pop from a bygone era that sounds very distinctly multi-continental. There’s a lot to take in with Transmissions, and multiple listens reveal different things, but the overall feeling is one of pleasantness. Transmissions is an easy, pleasing album on the ears, and despite losing its footing here and there, the three years or so of effort on whipping this material into shape comes off in spades. King of Prussia might not become a household name – and the band will probably be constantly upstaged by the Pennsylvanian community that shares its name, as they have the biggest commercial mall in the U.S. in terms of leasable space – but for lovers of sterling indie pop, you can do no wrong by picking this album up. It took a long time and a meandering route to finally get here, but the wait and diversions were all generally worth it.