You only need to look at the cover art for Freedom Wind to know that the Explorers Club likes music from the ’60s. The retro lettering, the smattering of pictures with the band frolicking on the beach, the fabricated circle of wear one finds on old, worn record sleeves. All of the ingredients are there, the same way they are in the music. The high-register vocal harmonies and distant, thundering drums call to mind most easily, and predominantly, the Beach Boys. Freedom Wind is an album that unapologetically, and free of irony, pays tribute to the pop sound of the ’50s and ’60s, and does so very convincingly.
Aside from the Beach Boys’ sound, which runs throughout, there are other throwback influences the listener will notice. There’s a spacey country-dabble in some songs that sounds a lot like the Byrds. The distorted vocals on “Honey, I Don’t Know Why” hint at what a Brian Wilson/Captain Beefheart collaboration might sound like. To hear these influences and more so easily from track to track, it is easy to see where the band got their name.
They are surely exploring a particular time in music history. Unfortunately, like so many explorers, they simply take what they find and call it their own. Very rarely on Freedom Wind does the band sound like they are making their music. Where the Elephant 6 bands, back in the ’90s, took their love of Brian Wilson and psychedelia and turned it into their own sound, here the Explorers Club merely echo a sound that already exists. They do so convincingly, and with plenty of hooks, but that just isn’t enough to make this a distinct record.
The real problem could be in the lyrics on Freedom Wind. It is one thing to take and remake a sound from 40 years ago, it is another to co-opt that era’s words too. The language of these songs, the measure and syntax of the lines, sounds dated. “She doesn’t know how I feel deep inside / and every time I think of her I cry…”, Jason Brewer sings on “Forever”. The delivery of the words makes them sound even more antiquated than they look written out. The love the band sings about on this record is always “so true”, and never simply (and more modernly) “true love”. Songs like “Hold Me Tight” and “Last Kiss” sound as cliched as their titles suggest. Lead single “Do You Love Me?” is one of only a couple that rise above the album’s throwback aesthetic. Where the rest of the album’s production sounds forced, on this track the vocals are clearer and the use of saxophone in the background, and a lighter touch on the Beach Boys’ percussion, make it the biggest success on the album. It sounds like a band from today using an old sound to craft an interesting and catchy pop song.
But that rarely happens on Freedom Wind. The Explorers Club spend so much time showing us how good they are at sounding like the Beach Boys or the Byrds, that they totally forget to show us what they sound like themselves. Which isn’t to say that this album isn’t fun; it definitely is. But weren’t we already having this kind of fun, and more of it, listening to Pet Sounds and Fifth Dimension?