I.S.S. (Ideal Social Situation)
I.S.S. (Ideal Social Situation) is a time-warping boy band formed and helmed by Tim Smolens in the early 2000's as an outlet for his increasing obsession with the production aesthetic and harmonic language on display in Brian Wilson's (Beach Boys) mid 60's musical output. I.S.S.'s debut album, Forget About The Girl, perhaps came closer, than any recording since Wilson's masterpieces, to that patented sound, composition style and signature 4 or 5-part vocal harmony. Not a mere copycat group however, I.S.S. injects a unique brand of humor, lyrical improvisation, virtuostic crooning, the brilliant (if not comically depressing) contributions of members George Smith and Joel Robinow, and an ability to briefly "time-warp" to parody 80's-style boy bands. I.S.S. seeks to re-inject the genre of the "boy band" with former glory it once possessed.
15 Years after I.S.S.'s debut album, with Smolens' primary band, Estradasphere, now defunct and Tim having all but abandoned any hope of doing music professionally, had 2 kids, earned a nursing degree and having moved his family to beautiful Colorado, he had finally found the time to finish a follow up. Enter She's a Girl (S.A.G.), self released January 1st 2018 and available exclusively on this website.
S.A.G., is partially an unapologetic homage to the Beach Boys lost 1967 masterpiece, Smile. The record is a veritable journey through the cool sensibilities of 50’s barbershop quartet, contrapuntal doo-wop vocal harmonies, expansive song arrangements amply laced with half-diminished chords, lush 60’s orchestral pop productions in the vein of the Phil Spector/Brian Wilson famed "Wall of Sound," quadrupled bass (run through vintage tape echo), and echo chamber drenched percussion (castanets, tambourine, sleigh bells, hand clap, timpani, glockenspiel, etc.).
And what I.S.S. album would be complete without some other-worldly improvised poetry and melodies by George Smith, who’s deep musicality and scathing, off-beat perspectives find a rare venue for their own sort of redemption? Not merely a savant of lyric/melodic improvisation, George is also a fantastic tunesmith in his own right, contributing two of his own depressingly sophisticated, bittersweet, transcendent tunes to the song cycle.
Special guest appearances by Timba Harris (Estradasphere on violin/viola, Secret Chiefs 3, etc.) on tenor saxophone, Bär McKinnon (Mr. Bungle, Umlaut), Luke Kirley on tuba/trombone, and Rory Reagan on drums.
ALL MUSIC review by William York:
The self-described "time-warping boy band" I.S.S. is led by vocalist/songwriter/producer Tim Smolens, who is better known for his work as bassist in the genre-hopping Santa Cruz, CA, band Estradasphere. The quartet is rounded out by fellow vocalists (and occasional songwriters) Joey Ryken, Joel Robinow, and George Smith. The group's album art, lyrics, and overall musical approach are a mixture of homage and parody concerning the decades-long history of the boy band genre/phenomenon, from the Four Freshmen to the Beach Boys and on through more modern groups such as the Backstreet Boys. While on paper they may seem to possess the trappings of a mere novelty band, they surpass that sort of designation on the strength of their songwriting and musicianship; listening to them, it becomes immediately clear that they put a great deal of effort into their music and not just the concept behind it. I.S.S.'s songs are built around four-part vocal harmonies that are at times uncanny in their similarity to Pet Sounds/Smile-era Beach Boys (Smolens is a devoted, largely self-taught acolyte of Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson). I.S.S.'s debut album, Forget About the Girl, came out in 2002 on Mimicry Records, the label of Mr. Bungle/Secret Chiefs 3 member Trey Spruance and the home of Estradasphere's first few releases. Forget About the Girl included contributions from Smolens' brother, Doug Smolens, on drums, along with backing vocals and instrumental assistance by fellow Estradasphere members Timb Harris and John Whooley.
MIMICRY RECORDS blurb:
The debut album from ISS, Forget About the Girl, is an absolute breakthrough in the sadly decomposing genre of the "novelty" record. A self described "Time Warping Boy Band", ISS is shamelessly derivative, and very, VERY convincing. Now before you start to puke, stop to consider the fact that ISS have managed to re-inject the genre of the nefarious "Boy Band" with the magic and marvel it once knew with the Beach Boys and the Four Freshmen--this is definately NOT an exaggeration. Don't be expecting another half-assed imitation of Pet Sounds by some smug, irony-obsessed art-farts--ISS is the REAL DEAL! Tim Smolens (Estradasphere) is the main songwriter and producer behind ISS. His obsessive study of the harmonic elements of Brian Wilson compositions (and, shamefully, New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys) meet up with his increasing skill in the studio environment to bear absolutely remarkable fruit. The psychedelic madness at the core of this "band" ends up drowned in such rich, full-bodied, fully-orchestral clarity & perfectly sung 5-part harmony that casual listeners would never suspect the psychotic subtext. The strict and crass realism in the rendering department only heightens the jarring transitions from 1968 to 1986 to 2002. To be sure, the historical persistence of the Boy Band and it's attendant cache of gooey love songs is given a ethnomusicologically exact tribute in ISS. But it's more than that. Forget About The Girl is an inspired and sincere labor of love.
Hey man, I heard this one's for the ladies.
Succeeds first and foremost in capturing hearts and ears of listeners. Now there's a concept.
Boldly goes where mere piss-take efforts are too self-hating to explore.
Nostalgic throwback to the "Age of Irony"?
Culturecide with dumber lyrics but better music?
Even smart girls can't resist four cute guys singing ultra-catchy love songs