Charleston, South Carolina-based purveyors of dreamy, harmonic retro-pop, The Explorers Club, are back with their third album Together, and it delivers another round of what makes the group such an enjoyable listen. The harmonies are tight, the melodies strong and catchy, and the overall mood is jubilant and uplifting, making Together the perfect antidote for the toxic politics, violence, personal struggles, and controversies that seem to swirl around all our lives like a constant black cloud.
Together is the five-piece band’s first album since 2012’s superb The Grand Hotel, which was a flawless, note-perfect pastiche of sunny ‘60s and ‘70s AM pop. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jason Brewer is the creative force behind the Explorers Club, and this time around he stays more in the ‘60s mode, exploring the exquisite pop melodies the Beach Boys delivered on their all time classic, 1966’s Pet Sounds.
If you didn’t know that it’s a new release, you would be completely justified in thinking that Together was recorded somewhere between 1965 and the Summer of Love. There’s a breezy airiness to the song structures; they are not overburdened with too much studio trickery or vocal histrionics. It’s just the right balance, one enchanting song after another. Together is also a brief listen—none of its 12 songs stretch beyond 3 and ½ minutes—but that’s in keeping with the ‘60s ethos. It’s an album made for summer, for driving down the highway with your windows open to let the warm breeze buffet you and your friends as the stereo blasts these songs while you sing along to every word. It’s feel-good music in a world that needs it.
“Together” opens the album with anthemic fervor, the kind of late ‘60s call for unity that sounds naive in its simplicity and openness (but perhaps that’s just the kind of unabashed positivity that a lot of us could use right now). A bit later, the doo-wop influenced “California’s Callin’ Ya”, a sunny waltz with a strong melodic hook, brings to mind the images of a sunny beach and the endless wash of ocean waves upon the sand, while “Once In a While” is a buoyant pop confection that inhabits its ‘60s-pop idiom perfectly, right down to the elaborate backing vocal arrangement.
“Gold Winds” features a particularly beguiling vocal arrangement on an album filled with them; “My Friend” is a thoughtful ballad that’s as lovely as anything else on Together, but then adds a bit of Isley Brothers/Little Richard inspired rock to the equation during its climax. It’s a nice little jolt in what is largely a mellow collection; and “No Strings Attached” is a gleaming ballad with note-perfect harmonies over of lovelorn vocal.
“Don’t Waste Her Time” is another note-perfect trip to a bygone era that seems like a fading dream when listening to those old ‘60s records. The Explorers Club brings the best of those years rushing back to meet us, never failing to delight. As for album closer “Before I’m Gone”, it’s a wistful and lush ballad that boasts some of the loveliest vocals on the album, with an ornate arrangement over a simple piano and acoustic backdrop. Really, it sounds sounds like a track that surely must have been a chart-topper sometime before most of us were born, yet it’s as fresh as a cool summer morning on the beach. As with the rest of the album, the harmonies here are sublime.
Together is an album that is coming out at the right time, just as summer gets rolling. It’s a real treat. The Explorers Club isn’t merely inspired by a particular era of our pop history—Brewer and his bandmates are students of it, able to expertly craft songs that belong to a period five decades past but somehow sound fresh and alive. In other words, it’s not a parody or a weak imitation of the Beach Boys and others ‘60s pop bands—this is a labor of love that fully embraces a time in our musical history that seems quaint and dated yet still has plenty to offer for a band willing to treat it with deserving grace and respect. The Explorers Club is that band because they have the songs, the vocal chops, the harmonies, the arrangements, and the songwriting to back up their sojourn into a hallowed era. In a world where brooding epics like Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool and David Bowie’s Blackstar (or edgy modern pop like Beyonce’s Lemonade) are hailed as masterpieces (and they are), there hardly seems room for the sunny, sincere optimism of The Explorers Club. They are a ray of sunshine we all could use. Together is a joy of a listen, a summery breeze clearing out a room that’s been too oppressive and stagnant for too long.