While one of the more frenetic volumes in the Unsurpassed Masters series, this is an undeniable snapshot of several major occurrences leading right up to the first Pet Sounds recordings sessions for the song "Sloop John B." Unfortunately, due to the nature of this release -- a bootleg, albeit of the highest caliber -- no definitive liner notes accompany the discs. This is regrettable, as several tracks on this particular set could use illumination. The bulk of this volume centers on several sessions held in mid-October 1965. After an untitled solo piano demo, disc one features the rehearsals as well as instrumental and vocal tracking sessions for "The Little Girl I Once Knew" -- the follow-up single to the massively successful "California Girls." Wilson's experimentations with multiple time signatures and perhaps most apparently the deliberate jarring pauses written into the melody itself suggest Wilson's intent was not simply to challenge the dimensions of pop music, but rather to assault them. The next trio of sessions are lushly orchestrated productions. "Stella by Starlight" and "How Deep Is the Ocean" feature vocals by famed musical arranger and conductor Dick Reynolds, who had previously worked with Wilson on The Beach Boys Christmas Album. These tracks, while fascinating on a historical level, are virtually unlistenable -- due primarily to the awkward juxtaposition of Reynolds untrained voice with the lush and soaring orchestra. "Three Blind Mice" is a definite harbinger of the vibe constructed during the ill-fated Smile project. This brief instrumental is an incomplete song and contains what Wilson himself refers to as "feels" -- or an incomplete work in progress. The dark and brooding results foreshadow the shapes of things to come. Unlike the two pop standards that precede this track, Wilson can be heard directing and making changes to the melody and performance. The final track on this volume -- "Let's Live (Before We Die)" -- actually dates back to the recording sessions for All Summer Long. Wilson steps out from behind the production chair to perform on piano. Incidentally, studio chatter from this session was used on the All Summer Long track "Our Favourite Recording Sessions."
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2