In the great Beatles vs. Beach Boys debate, I side firmly with the Beach Boys. There was a period in my life which was at least a month but could have been as many as three months that I only listened to the Beach Boys’ greatest hits, which did quite a bit for my critical aesthetics (as did a later obsession: a whole spring listening to every Cake album at that point written). While Jared Lekites would probably pick the Beach Boys between the two (he covers “Girl Don’t Tell Me”!), his songwriting is influenced strongly by both bands.
Since I’m a bigger fan of “409” than “Yesterday,” I immediately heard the sha-woop and sha-la-la harmonies so integral to the Beach Boys’ sound when I heard the Star Map opener “Too Far Gone.” The perky tune relies heavily on vocals, clapping and familiar start-stop rhythms, making its influences an easy peg. The title track, which follows, is a jubilant track about California. But then “For Lack of a Better Heart” apes all the best parts of the Beatles’ sound (which also includes clapping and vocal melodies, but in different harmonic structures). “Don’t Leave Me Now” has a Lennon/Harrison vibe going on. (Bonus: These songs are very nicely recorded, which allows all the parts to pop out.)
I could keep writing, but here’s the skinny: Star Map is a vintage, guileless pop album that will make you smile. The songs are strong, the melodies are catchy, and Lekites has clearly worked his tail off to make it so (just like the aforementioned bands did). If you’re into bands like Ladybug Transistor and The Redwalls, this will be right up your alley.