The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds (1966), 8/10

The Beach Boys produced what is perhaps the crowning achievement of sixties pop with Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson’s passion project that expanded the possibilities of the genre and normalized intense focus on studio work. Wilson’s expansion of Spector’s wall of sound became something meaningful and deeply artful as opposed to simply audibly gratifying. This combined with an emphasis on new textures and sounds makes the album sound remarkably novel considering its release in the mid-sixties, yet it sounds fresh and beautiful as a product separate from time because, unlike its competition, it does not rely on sixties conventions for its philosophical meaning or its musical ambitions. While some of these ballads are melodramatic and cliché, they are largely endearing and effective as a collection. The lyrics throughout the album are exceptional for their ability to convey a relatable set of feelings rather than communicate a significantly intelligent perspective of relationships or psychological struggles. The first side of the record leans into these affectionate and dreamy ballads while the second dares to break this mold in more ways than just its sound. The rich orchestral and open sound of the album’s music makes songs like “I Know There’s an Answer” outstanding beyond the already infectious melody and atypical structure. Sounds like these were made possible by Brian Wilson’s devotion to mastering the possibilities of the studio rather than an intent on selling a product, as was the focus up until this stage in the band’s career and the industry in a wider sense. While some tracks have a rather simple melody, the final product presents an exquisite example of perfected pop. The intended sound and ideas are entirely fleshed out and maximized to their full potential without compromise or distraction. The group’s experience with intensely emotional pop music helps the first half of the record sound more polished and practiced whereas a track like “I Just Wasn't Made for These Times” sounds like an entirely new thematic shift, enhanced and highlighted by the use of theremin. A rare feat, especially during this infantile stage of rock and pop music, there is truly no weak track among these thirteen songs. Its inspiration would be immediately apparent with McCartney citing the album as an inspiration for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band but its impact can be heard as a ripple through time into modern pop, especially for groups leaning into the artistic potential of the medium. Brian Wilson understood the purpose of pop music, to create a graceful and refined product of music while exploring worthwhile considerations of the human condition. Pet Sounds is and forever will be a classic for its entirely necessary impact on expanding the possibilities of pop music at a critical time in its development but is equally long-lasting for its simple beauty.