Hipsters, Love Your Beach Boys

You already love their copycats.

Influence is a funny thing.Unlike inspiration, which can strike at any time, influence seems to follow the trends of what's hot in music. It's rare for an act to dip into the music-history archives and pull out an interesting, ear-catching influence without others quickly following suit. This happens all the freakin' time in the world of independent alternative rock.Of course there are always the influences that never fade: If a band is blues-rock heavy, they must be into Zeppelin; if a band is more jangly, much of the credit must certainly go the Stones' way; if a band brings metal riffs into play, surely they're stealing from Sabbath, because Sabbath, let's face it, used up all the good riffs; and for everyone else there's the Beatles.As critics we sometimes take the easy way out, and too often these days, much as with today's music, music criticism seems derivative—only instead of our influences (there ain't a Lester Bangs in the bunch of us, sorry), we're derivative of other writers' observations. We hear that someone else heard a little Tears for Fears in that synth riff? Suddenly we hear it, too. It's kind of tough not to, unless you can cut yourself off from the rest of the critical world. It's like staring at a magic-eye painting that everyone says is hiding a boat: Goddammit, you're gonna stare at that sucker until you see a boat.It's not always the critics' fault. In recent years there's been a spate of more timely, less archetypal, but nonetheless blatantly obvious influences bubbling up among tastemaking bands. And although these resurgent influences seem to come at random intervals, they always come with strength in numbers.The most glaring example of this, of course, was the Joy Division craze of a few years back (the Killers, Interpol, Editors). But there have been many others. After the rise of Fall Out Boy and its Fueled by Ramen label, Hall & Oates, of all acts, was cast as that emo pop-punk movement's savior (most prominently by FOB acolytes Gym Class Heroes, who deemed their 2007 summer tour the "Daryl Hall for President Tour" and went on to collaborate with their idol). Which is off-putting. And unfortunate for Hall & Oates fans.Last year—finally—the mainstream music media seemed to pick up on the sheer transparency of such trends. When it became clear that indie stalwarts Arcade Fire, The National and The Hold Steady all owed much of their sound to Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Spin magazine put the Boss on its cover.So it seems a little odd, then, that the Beach Boys haven't yet received similar props in '08. Why wait another three months for those fancy year-end lists and all to confirm what's already been determined as a trend, if unwittingly?Try a simple Google News search for "Beach Boys harmonies" and you'll see it applied to "hip new" bands like Fleet Foxes, The Explorers Club, New Pornographers, the Little Ones, French Kicks, and Midnight Juggernauts. And whenever the Brooklyn experimental act Grizzly Bear gets around to releasing a new album, this trend will continue.The question then is whether the Beach Boys' influence is being projected onto the music by critics or truly being put forth by the artists. In this case, it just may be more the former. This year has already seen three Beach Boys–related releases: the 16-disc boxed-set rerelease of the Boys' U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years, the reissue of Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, and the release of Brian Wilson's That Lucky Old Sun. So, yes, the Beach Boys are no doubt prevalent in the public consciousness this year.I'd argue that this constant Beach Boys influence-spotting trend isn't a simple case of projection, though. One listen to Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal" and it becomes clear where the Foxes became inspired.Is this surprising? Not in the slightest. The biggest knock on today's music is that it's all derivative. Audiences seem to be yearning for a new sound, for something—anything—that sounds a little different from what's being promoted on the radio and in the magazines. But maybe this is what music has come to. Maybe music these days isn't about finding that new sound, but rather about finding a new band that reminds us of an old sound we didn't know we missed.Surely the hipster set wouldn't have gone as bonkers earlier this year when Springsteen played KeyArena if it hadn't been for the cadre of bands that gave him their stamp of approval. I doubt the same formula will apply to the Beach Boys next week. Without Brian Wilson—who has long earned his due in music criticism—I just can't imagine many music snobs giving the rest of the group the credit they deserve.But wouldn't it be nice if they did?music@seattleweekly.com

 
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