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Hello Forever: Whatever It Is
by George Graham
(Independent release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/15/2020)
There seems to be ever more retro music appearing on the scene these days. Styles from past generations from swing to psychedelic to soul to early electronic pop are experiencing revivals from a younger generation of artists, many of whom had not been born when the music had its original heyday. While some retro music is a poor imitation of the original, the best retro draws on a strong understanding of the past style but also adds new, and creative elements, rather than being slavishly imitative.
This week, we have a clever retro band who immerse themselves in the paisley colored psychedelic pop of the 1960s, with an extra strong helping of Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies. The group has a name that could have come out of those days, Hello Forever, and their new release, their debut, is called Whatever It Is.
Hello Forever describes themselves as an art-pop collective from Topanga, California. The “collective” aspect is underscored by their publicity that says they live “in seclusion on the abandoned grounds of a late 1960s nudist commune, which they found on craigslist.” They are led by Samuel Joseph who is steeped in the music as a second generation fan. In an interview, he said that his mother was a huge Beatles fan, who went to see the Fab Four when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Joseph’s parents always had music on playing around the house from that period and supported him with music lessons from an early age. Also big in the Joseph family were the Beach Boys. Samuel grew not far from where the Beach Boys lived, and after high school he moved into a house just blocks from where Brian Wilson grew up. He went to the college where Brian Wilson had attended, and took lessons in the music school where the Beach Boys rehearsed their early recordings. Joseph said he would come home and listen to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds over and over. Not surprisingly, the Beach Boys sound, especially their vocal harmonies has seeped into the music that Joseph was creating as Hello Forever.
And like Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Joseph and the band spend many hours in the studio, or in the case of Hello Forever, sometimes in a bedroom with a laptop, constructing the elaborate layered arrangement. The album took 200 days to complete.
The result is a record not unlike a slightly mutated Beach Boys psychedelic era project with lots of sunny vocal harmonies and clever, elaborate arrangements with quirky transitions and retro instrument sounds. But there are also some more contemporary ingredients like electronic rhythms in places, and some occasional contemporary digital effects on the vocals and things like sped up guitars. The downside is that sometimes it seems as if different musical ingredients and parts were just thrown together for the fun of it, and it can come across as not very coherent, or a little goofy. Interestingly, conventional drums are not often heard on the album with tambourines, finger snaps, and hand percussion providing much of the rhythmic propulsion.
The 12 songs are quite succinct – none run over 4 minutes – and the whole album clocks in at just over 32 minutes, so the songs don’t have a chance to overstay their welcome. Lyrically, the compositions have a bit more depth than many from the 1960s.
The album opens with what is touted as the first single, if that makes any sense in this day and age. The song is called Some Faith and Joseph says it is about self-acceptance. It definitely sounds as if it fell out of a time warp from 50 plus years ago. There are clear evocations of the Beach Boys in the vocals. <<>>
Anywhere In Everywhere starts out mostly a cappella and keeps the sound sunny. The lyrics take a somewhat philosophical direction. <<>>
One of the more eclectic pieces on the album is Colors in the Sky a mixture of psychedelia with old art rock. While the song again evokes Beach Boys vocals, they throw in some digital vocal pitch effects that they did not have back in the day. <<>>
Created for Your Love is a quirky tune that is mostly acoustic in its instrumentation with a kind of odd limping rhythm. <<>>
Another bit of musical anachronism comes on Rise which adds some video-game style percussion, though it’s not a conventional 4/4 rock tune. <<>>
One of the most elaborate arrangements appears on Natural which evokes the sound of the band Queen. This is one of those tracks that sounds as if they threw in as many musical parts and riffs as they could think of. The result is a crazy mixed-up track, which could be either impressive or a musical mess, depending on your viewpoint. <<>>
For me, one of the more musically interesting tracks a piece called Get It Right which has its share of head-snapping musical transitions, but it all works well. It’s another example of Hello Forever’s Beach Boys influence. <<>>
The album ends with Happening which unlike the elaborate arrangement elsewhere sounds like a home recording with just the vocals and an acoustic guitar. <<>>
Whatever It Is, the new debut album by the Southern California band Hello Forever is a fun retro record that evokes the Beach Boys harmonies and includes a bunch of sonic flashbacks from the psychedelic days, including a tendency for musical non-sequiturs, which can be fun or a little wacky. It’s sunny sounding music that evokes the band’s surf-beach location.
Our grade for sound quality is about a “C.” This kind of music, even back in the day, was never very high fidelity from all the sonic manipulation going on with the noisy analog gear of the pre-digital era. But this album has some intentionally over-driven, distorted vocals. Apparently in some circles that so-called “saturated” sound is considered trendy, but I call it inexcusable, and the some of the instrumentation has the same problem, muddying up the sound, and sometimes spoiling the clever arrangements.
Sonic deficiencies notwithstanding, Hello Forever’s new album is a fun trip to the psychedelic scene from the standpoint of 2020.
(c) Copyright 2020 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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