Photograph of Lance Link, Secret Chimp by Ralph Crane from LIFE magazine, 1970
It was over a decade ago that I first tried to piece together a version of SMiLE, the great lost Beach Boys album, using the versions floating around on the Internet at the time. I burned a CD-R that seemed to be a pretty good amalgamation using the available materials, and I played it constantly for about a year. I lost that CD-R ages ago (around the time that Brian Wilson released his recreated SMiLE in 2004), but for some reason I didn't pick up a copy of Smiley Smile, the album the Beach Boys put out in '67 when it was clear that the SMiLE project was dead. Well, I bought the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey two-fer CD last week, and I was surprised by how much I like it. I'd never heard the "creepy" version of "Wind Chimes" before or the official versions of "Vegetables" and "Wonderful". And I was pretty surprised that "She's Goin' Bald" was actually a re-write of the SMiLE-period track "He Gives Speeches" (one of my favorites from the project, actually - I have mixed feelings about this version - it's "humor" reeks of Mike Love's tampering.)
My point, I guess, is that few bands have tried to tackle SMiLE-style pop symphonies (and for good reason), but one of the closest I have encountered is Olivia Tremor Control's 1999 album Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume One. With its sunny themes, unconventional recording methods, repeated instrumental figures, and ambitious song structures, Black Foliage seems to be trying to capture not just the scope of SMiLE but some of its actual sound as well. "The Sylvan Screen", found on "side 3" of Black Foliage is probably the best single track on the album for showing what OTC was trying to accomplish. It looks like the version I've uploaded here doesn't include most of the minute-plus of ambient beach sounds taken from Swedish field recordings (no big loss), but it does have the song's haunted verses, harmony-heavy chorus, and amazing vocals-only coda.
Now if only Olivia Tremor Control had stayed together long enough to make a Wild Honey sound-alike...
"The Sylvan Screen" by Olivia Tremor Control